Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Scotty Pugmire battles injury, comes out stronger

Scotty Pugmire lay on the ground. It had been was a simple play —­­­­ something he had done so routinely. But this time, he knew it wasn’t like all the other times. All he could do was lie in pain as the trainer tended to his knee, wondering if his final season ended before it had even started. ­

Pugmire lived for sports — especially contact sports. There was a thrill in hitting someone. 

He tried out baseball and track, but it didn’t give him that same high of hitting someone. In seventh grade, while living in Colorado, his friend introduced him to lacrosse, a sport he described as football with a stick that you can use to hit people. That was all Pugmire needed to hear.

On the first day of practice, the coach had him play long stick midfield, a position where the player uses a long stick to defend. Eventually, Pugmire’s family moved to Apple Valley, Minn., and Pugmire began playing for the Eastview High Lightning where he played in two state title games, winning one. 

Off the field, Pugmire excelled in school with the goal of being accepted to his dream college — BYU. Both his parents went to BYU, so he grew up rooting for the Cougars. If it came down to it, Pugmire said he would choose to attend BYU over any school, whether he was playing lacrosse or not, but his dream was to play lacrosse for the Cougars. Pugmire was recruited by schools on the East Coast and Midwest but decided to forego those opportunities and follow his dream by attending BYU and trying out for its lacrosse team.

Pugmire served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Guatemala before coming to BYU. He returned home and arrived in Provo two weeks before tryouts. After two years without touching a lacrosse stick, he was thrown into the fire. 

“It was really foreign just to be back in it, and I didn’t actually end up making the team my first year,” Pugmire said.  

After getting cut, he kept working. He kept going to the gym, and he kept getting better. But at tryouts the following year, he was cut for a second time. 

“There was a batch of talent that was there that made it extremely difficult for Scott to make a spot on the team. And because of that, he got cut the first couple of times,” head coach Matt Schneck said.

After getting cut for the second time, Pugmire was devastated. He didn’t know what to do. He felt he had given so much but hadn’t been able to accomplish his dream of making the BYU men’s lacrosse team.

Scotty Pugmire and the Eastview High School Lightning win the 2012 Minnesota State Championship. (Scotty Pugmire)

During his junior year, Pugmire enrolled in the information systems program — a rigorous, time-consuming major. Pugmire was at a crossroads. Should he try out for a third time, or should he leave his dream behind?

Pugmire said he decided he couldn’t quit the game he loved. He decided to try out again. Determined, he put in even more work that summer, running faster and lifting more weights. This time, it was different.

“I tried out the third year, and it was awesome getting the call from coach saying, ‘Hey, look, we’re going to offer you a spot. We’ll see where you are halfway through the season and see if we can keep you on the team,'” Pugmire said.

He was ecstatic.

“It wasn’t like Scott had just not made the team and said, ‘Ok well I’m not going to touch a lacrosse stick.’” Schneck said. “He came back as a better lacrosse player. He was also a stronger athlete, a faster athlete. And now we had seen more of his personality and worth ethic. At that point, we couldn’t say no.”

Pugmire, with the advice of coaches, switched from a long stick defender to a defensive midfielder, where the team was thin and where he could get more playing time. 

Pugmire practiced and traveled with the team during his first season but didn’t see the field very much. After his first season, Pugmire was ready for one more year to give it all he had. But this season he wanted to make up for the two previous ones he had missed.

“(He gave) double the effort, double the workout, double the experience,” Schneck said. “And trying to put all that into this experience he was having. That’s the type of guy he is. Everything that he does, he does completely. He works hard. He’s always putting in that great effort.” 

Pugmire said he felt he was shorted two years not being on the team and was hoping to make up for lost opportunities. He worked twice as hard that summer to prepare for his senior season. But everything changed on Oct. 11. 

“One scrimmage, we traveled down to Colorado. In the 2nd quarter, I was out there on the field playing, just kind of going through the motions of what I’ve done thousands and thousands of times before,” Pugmire remembered. “The ball came across. They passed it to him, and I ran out to approach the ball. As I broke down, I felt my knee pop in four different spots. I kind of just collapsed to the ground at the top of the field. Right then I could tell something was wrong.”

As he lay on the ground, he knew it wouldn’t be an injury that he could just walk off. Question after question ran through his head: How serious was the injury? Would he be back in time for the season opener? If he was out for the season, would he still be with the team, and how would he contribute? As he hobbled to the sideline, the only thing he knew for certain was that his lacrosse future was anything but certain.

Trainers believed it was an MCL sprain — an injury with a four to six-week recovery. After going to get an MRI, the doctor gave him bad news: he had suffered a torn ACL, a sprained MCL and a torn meniscus in two places. It was the last time he stepped foot on a lacrosse field in a BYU jersey. His senior season was done before it started.

“It has definitely been tough having put in so much time and effort to get to a spot where you can play,” Pugmire said.

“We found out it was a season-ending injury which was especially sad for so many guys on the team because we’ve seen the effort he has put in,” Schneck remarked. “He has worked so hard and he has been such an important part of the team. My message to Scotty was that he doesn’t have to end here.”

Pugmire had put in so much effort to fill his role on the field, and then before the season even started, he could barely walk — let alone run — and the role he expected to have was in the rearview mirror. 

“Rather than leading by example, it’s a different leadership type that I have to take on. No matter what circumstances we go through, there are good things to be found. There’s joy,” Pugmire said.

As the 2020 season approaches, Pugmire will take on more of a coaching role, helping motivate and teach players. Although it’s not the role he nor the coaches envisioned he would play, he hopes his leadership can help the team be successful on the field.  

Pugmire has come a long way since picking up a long stick for the first time in 2008. Lacrosse has helped make him who he is today, and he said he won’t let this injury define who he can become. 

Although Pugmire’s lacrosse career may have ended that night, his influence on the team won’t.

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