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BOGACZYK: Herd's Heater Returns After Rough Ride

June 23, 2015

By JACK BOGACZYK

HERDZONE.COM COLUMNIST

            HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Chuck Heater felt plenty of pain that Thanksgiving weekend day when Western Kentucky poured 67 points and 738 yards on his stout defense in Marshall's only football loss last season.

            Then, a Friday, May 29 bike ride in Ritter Park happened. The third-year Thundering Herd defensive coordinator had a serious wreck that left him in St. Mary's Hospital for a week.

            "No, I still felt worse after Western Kentucky," a grinning Heater said while sitting in the defensive coaches' meeting room in the Shewey Building on Monday.

            Heater, 62, is known among Herd players and his fellow members of Coach Doc Holliday's staff as a devoted cyclist. He rides his bike to work most days ... or he did.

            Since his accident, the former Michigan star running back and longtime assistant coach's black hybrid two-wheeler has sat -- chained to a railing -- near a Shewey entrance.


 

 

            "I was coming down through Ritter Park, which I've done more than 100 times, past the tennis courts there, which I've done over 100 times," Heater said, recounting his accident. "And it's a busy little area down there, so I started to decelerate at the bottom, which I usually do.

            "Then a car came out at an angle like he was going into the park, and as I looked back at it later I'm not sure he was able to do that because there were barricades up.

            "Well, it shocked me and I put my brakes on and went over the handlebars ... fractured six ribs and collapsed a lung. I was in the hospital a week until they could get that (right) lung uncollapsed."

            Heater has been cycling since 2010, his last season as an assistant at Florida. He really got into biking the next year when he moved to Temple, and he began riding Philadelphia streets on a daily basis.

            In the City of Brotherly Love one day, a police officer opened her car door into Heater's moving bike. He flipped and landed on the back of his head ... but he was wearing a helmet.

            "This (wreck) was worse," Heater said. "It kind of shook me. I don't know when I'll ride. I walk and I run some -- jogging for me. I haven't ridden since then. We go to Florida for vacation and I might ride there; it's a little safer there.

            "We'll see. But it does make you realize -- which I always have -- about how vulnerable you are on a bike. You just don't have a lot of recourse when something bad happens. I can't go very fast, but coming down a hill, there's not much you can do.

            "I was wearing a helmet -- which I always do -- and I did hit my head, blacked out for a little while. People called (for an ambulance). I thought I was OK, really, just shook up. Then at the hospital they took X-rays, and they told me to roll over on my left side.

            "And it was `Whoooooa!' Broken ribs, collapsed lung. That's when I realized I wasn't going to be able to walk away that day."

            Heater already was back on the job a couple of weeks ago, planning for the 2015 season -- his 40th as a college football assistant at 12 schools -- when the Herd defense returns five starters from the 2014 Conference USA championship club that went 13-1, won the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl and finished the season ranked Nos. 22 and 23 in the polls.

            He's bounced back with the kind of resilience his defense displayed following the home loss to WKU -- with a C-USA Championship Game win over Louisiana Tech and the Boca Bowl rout of Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois.

            "I had a checkup last week, and my doctor says, `You broke a bunch of ribs, Buddy,' and I said `Yeah, but it's healing nicely,'" Heater said. "I've jogged a couple of times last week, so I think I'm back up operating.

            "It's life. Stuff happens. There's more probability to it when you jump out of airplanes or ride bikes, I guess. Motorcycles in particular, there's a higher degree of probability (of injury), I guess. But you can walk across the street and something happens."

            Heater's recollections from his trip over the handlebars included one story about which he could smile.

            "What's funny ... well, funny as some of it can be, is when I was there waiting for the ambulance, the police asked me where I wanted them to take my bike," the Herd defensive coordinator said. "I started thinking about it and said, `Do you know where the Marshall football offices are located?'

            "They said sure, and so they brought my bike over here. When they dropped it off, they talked to people here in the coaches' office and when they asked about me, someone told them, `Coach Heater is missing.'

            "What did they think happened? Chuck was kidnapped? What? Then they heard the (emergency call), heard there was a bike wreck and figured out that was me.

            "But think about. It's good if it was going to happen, it happened when it did. I ride every Monday during the season because there's time for me to do it. What if this happened during the season? In the hospital, I'm out.

            "Who calls the defense then on game day?"

            Uh, Chuck, it would be up to another Doc to provide the cure for that one.

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