August 7, 2008

Gachkar battles back

Mention the name Andrew Gachkar and most Missouri fans picture a rangy linebacker flying down the field with abandon making a bell-ringing hit on special teams against Nebraska. As a true freshman, the Blue Valley West High School product made his name by throwing his body after kick returners with reckless abandon.

But after using his body to dole out the punishment, this offseason, Gachkar found his body fighting back. Early in the second semester last year, with his right arm swollen--in his words "gigantic"--Gachkar sought medical help. Doctors found a 13-centimeter blood clot in the vessel above his first rib on the right side of his chest. Over two separate surgeries that lasted 20 hours, they removed the rib and the scalene muscle on the right side of Gachkar's neck, in addition to doing work on his right wrist and leg to improve blood flow. He spent a little more than three weeks in the hospital all told.

"It's a very difficult surgery. I know from talking to him after, he felt like he got hit by a truck," Gary Pinkel said. "To see what he looked like when he had that surgery and what he looks like now. It's a different human being."

Gachkar is back on the Missouri practice field, once again playing linebacker. He tipped the scales on Thursday morning at 222 pounds, some 30 to 35 more than his lowest weight this spring.

It wasn't quite as simple as Gachkar would like to make it sound. For six months, he had been on blood thinners. He had doubts. He began telling teammates he believed he would have to take a redshirt during the 2008 season and miss Missouri's run at a possible national title.

"We discussed it, we talked about it, if I'm able to go, if I'm not able to go," Gachkar said. "(The coaches) just said, 'Come out here and go as hard as you can. If you can compete at their level and you can play, you're going to play.'"

He is still not positive he will play this year. The blood clot and the surgeries have left a reminder of their presence beyond the four-inch scar where Gachkar used to have a rib.

"It's definitely changed the way I play right now because I have a lot less strength," he said. "I'm trying to get out of bad habits right now, trying to stick to good form."

But teammates and coaches alike marvel at the fact that Gachkar is on the field at all.

"Gach, there's a story. There's a human interest story," Pinkel said. "He's a lot tougher than I am, I guarantee that."

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