In recalling the memory of returning to the football field last summer, Casey Roddick can’t help but laugh.
“It was like a baby deer just trying to get out there and figure out how to run first,” he said.
Now a fifth-year junior offensive lineman for the Colorado Buffaloes, Roddick is enjoying a new level of confidence after going through a full winter and spring of workouts. He didn’t get those workouts last year.
In late January of 2021, about a month after he and the Buffs played in the Valero Alamo Bowl, Roddick contracted COVID-19 and then was diagnosed with myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle sometimes caused by a virus.
“Personally, I thought I was done playing forever,” he said. “That was the consensus between myself and also some of the coaches that were previously here. They thought I was done with it. It was definitely scary to figure out, like, it could be over just like that.”
Studies have shown that young males are more likely to develop myocarditis than others and that African Americans have had a higher rate of hospitalization from COVID-19 compared to Caucasians.
“I just had to do whatever the doctor was telling me, but the statistics don’t lie at the end of the day,” Roddick said. “Definitely when I heard those statistics it was alarming to be like, ‘Okay, what do I need to do to get over this, most importantly, but how can I get over it the fastest?’”
Roddick had to be patient, listen to his doctors and hope he got better. For months, he wasn’t allowed to work out, run or jog.
“The only thing I could really do was yoga and that was to the bare minimum,” he said. “I could just walk around the house outside for 10 to 15 minutes a day. I had to do that every day for four or five months.”
Although Roddick tried to push the limits at times, seeing the MRI of his enlarged heart provided a reality check.
“I was like, you know what, I’m just going to take a step back, not try to be the macho man and just kind of get in tune with my body, understand that and just get back as healthy as I can,” he said.
After missing the entire offseason workout program and spring practices in 2021, Roddick was finally cleared to work out in late June. That gave him only two months to get ready for CU’s football season.
The first step was jogging again.
“After that,” Roddick joked, “you’ve just got to run through somebody’s face and block somebody.” In reality, getting ready to play football was more a difficult process and Roddick struggled.
“I didn’t feel like the same person that I was before,” he said. “But I understood that it was just about repetition – repeating every single process over and over and over until I got it.”
A full-time starter at guard in 2020, Roddick didn’t earn his way into the starting lineup until game No. 3 last year. By game No. 4, he was getting almost all of the playing time at right guard.
“I think at the beginning part of the season, I played my worst football of my career,” he said. “Towards that later part of the season, I got seasoned into the line, I got used to playing next to Frank (Fillip); I got used to playing next to Colby (Pursell) or Noah (Fenske), whoever was playing center. That’s when I started to get things down and that’s when I really got to my prime almost.”
At this point, Roddick has been fully healthy since June, but it wasn’t until January that he finally got a chance to do offseason work with director of football sports performance Shannon Turley. CU’s hiring of Kyle DeVan as offensive line coach in December has also made a world of a difference for the entire line, but Roddick in particular.
“Coach DeVan, he saw my strengths and he wanted to keep that,” said Roddick, who has started 18 of the 30 games he’s played at CU. “He saw my weaknesses and was like, ‘This is how we’re gonna fix it. I’ve got a plan for it and you’re gonna go attack it every single day.’ That’s how he made it easy. He took that weight off me for trying to figure out how I’m gonna make up for two years of missing out on spring ball.”
With the help of DeVan and Turley, Roddick’s 6-foot-4, 325-pound frame is more fit and muscular than it’s been in the past and he came out of spring practices last month feeling confident.
“Personally, I think that it was a great spring ball – leaps and bounds in comparison to last year,” he said.
While last year was a struggle for Roddick, it has given him a new perspective as he approaches this season.
“It kind of had me thinking, ‘Dang, what if it was (over)? What if I didn’t do enough?’” he said. “Going into this offseason, that’s the mentality. If this is over the next day, then I know that I gave it my all the previous day.
“It was definitely scary (to go through COVID-19 and myocarditis), not only for myself, but also for my family. I do all of this for my family to one day go into the league and make millions just to give back to them. Without this, I felt like I almost failed.”