Clive Truschel — a Clovis West High School senior — fought back from a debilitating illness to rejoin the Golden Eagles’ football team this season.
But he brushes aside any suggestion that he’s an inspiration.
“I’m just doing what everyone on the team would do,” Truschel said.
Perhaps so. But no one else was diagnosed with an infection in the spine, missed a year of football, dedicated himself to recovering his strength and is now poised to play in college.
“I love the competitiveness and team aspect of football,” Truschel said. “I’ve always been a competitive person. Just going out and playing as hard as you can, with all the blood and sweat, is awesome. I’m blessed that I’m able to do that.”
His future in football came into question two years ago during his sophomore year. Truschel, a lineman, played in the fall of 2014 on Clovis West’s junior varsity.
He was having a good season, but his back started to hurt. At first, he attributed it to the normal aches and pains of football. But he soon had trouble walking.
A herniated disc was the first tentative diagnosis. Surgery was considered. But Truschel ran a fever, suggesting an infection. He remained in great pain while doctors tried to figure out the problem, which continued to worsen.
“There were moments when we didn’t know if he would ever walk again,” said his mother, Ellen Truschel. “It was quite an ordeal until he was diagnosed.”
Additional tests and a biopsy revealed a salmonella infection in his spine.
Salmonella is a type of food poisoning caused by bacteria. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But in some cases, the infection may spread to the bloodstream and then to other parts of the body.
“I have no idea what I ate that did this to me,” Truschel said.
He spent a week in the hospital and was on intravenous antibiotics for six weeks.
Truschel said he recovered completely but the process took time. He missed the last month of the fall semester and the entire spring semester of his sophomore year. At times, he felt isolated from his friends and classmates.
Truschel’s weight dropped from 220 to 180 pounds, in part, because the antibiotics affected his appetite. (He’s now up to 265 pounds on a 6-foot-4-inch frame.) He also lost muscle mass because of prolonged bed rest.
At the beginning, doctors said he might never play football again, Truschel said.
“I kind of accepted that. But when I realized I was regaining my health, I thought that I could start lifting [weights] and get back in shape and maybe play. It was a really emotional time for me,” he said.
Truschel returned to school for his junior year but didn’t play football. He said he wasn’t strong enough for varsity competition and risked injury if he played.
But he went to Clovis West’s football games and stood on the sidelines with his teammates.
Meanwhile, strong support came from his parents. His mother was the point person with doctors. His father, Jeff, worked out with his son to strengthen his core and back, plus improve his cardio capacity.
Jeff Truschel could understand his son’s passion for the game because he played football for Fresno State in the 1980s.
“My parents were there so much for me,” Truschel said.
His goal became to play football in his senior year and capture the attention of college coaches.
“Even though I was a little behind because I got sick, I just had to work harder than everyone else,” he said.
George Petrissans, head football coach at Clovis West, never doubted Truschel’s determination.
“I knew Clive was going to make it back because I could see how much he missed it,” Petrissans said. “He would constantly come around the weight room, and I could see the desire in his eyes.”
Clovis West’s first game this season was against Liberty High School of Bakersfield. It was Truschel’s return to action on the football field as the right tackle on the offensive line.
“I was super emotional,” he said. “I was ready to punch a hole in a wall. I was just ready to play and prove myself.”
Truschel said the Liberty game and a later one against top-ranked Central High School stand out from this season.
“I play with everything in all my games. But especially in those games, I was trying to get everyone — and myself — to realize these are super good teams, and we have to be our absolute best,” he said.
Truschel’s goal of playing in college appears on track. He said he has received offers from three colleges — Fresno State, San Jose State University and Northern Arizona University. He does not have to commit to a university until Feb. 1.
Petrissans said Truschel will be a great college player because of his intelligence and because he plays hard. “He doesn’t want to let his teammates or his coaches down,” Petrissans said. “It’s been a privilege coaching him. I wish I could do it another year.”
Truschel said he feels good and is stronger than before he got sick. His mother said she’s in awe of how he handled the adversity.
“To see him do so well and have all the opportunities makes me so happy. I have so much gratitude,” she said.
The pieces of Truschel’s life seem to be coming together.
Online courses have enabled him to catch up on the credits he missed while he was out sick. He’s at the end of his high school football career feeling good about how he battled back and about the memories he’ll take with him.
“I love everyone on my team, and I know I’m going to play next year,” Truschel said. “In terms of being done with Clovis West football, I know I’ll miss it. But I also know that five or 10 years from now, I’ll look back and think these were great times.”