OSU football: Back injury led Calvin Bundage on a long journey back to football
STILLWATER — Calvin Bundage saw so many doctors, surgeons and specialists, he can’t even recall the exact number.
Seven or eight, he says.
As the Oklahoma State linebacker went through a season without football last fall because of a bulging disc in his back, he faced some major obstacles.
“It challenged his mental, physical and spiritual self,” said Calvin’s father, Clyde Bundage. “As his parents, we felt his pain, but embraced his positive attitude to return this season.”
No matter the hardships, that positive attitude never dissipated. It buoyed Calvin through the toughest times, and has helped him return to the football field this fall, to the point that he’s been one of the pleasant surprises of the Cowboy preseason.
Now, Calvin is just days away from his first game back, when No. 11 OSU hosts Tulsa at 11 a.m. Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium. But getting here was a major accomplishment.
Calvin was limited by injuries at times during his junior season of 2018, but still showed dynamic playmaking abilities. He finished with 62 tackles in 11 games, with eight tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and four quarterback hurries.
In the 2019 preseason, he was practicing with the team, but limited by the back injury that had become a nagging problem.
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Ultimately, it got to the point that he couldn’t practice or work out. He had a redshirt year available, so he wasn’t going to lose his eligibility, but back injuries in football can be scary.
The family started talking to doctors.
“All the doctors, they were great,” Clyde said. “They suggested rehab and therapy first. Once that didn’t pan out, we knew he would possibly have to have surgery.”
Calvin’s mother, LaDonna, works in healthcare and began seeking advice from her colleagues.
The family settled on Dr. Andrew Dossett, who is located in the Dallas metroplex and works with the area’s professional franchises, including the Dallas Cowboys.
“Everybody was telling me it was a big deal and I probably shouldn’t play football,” Calvin said. “I went to a great doctor and he fixed it. People shy away from back surgery, but mine turned out good.”
It was a minimally invasive surgery, and Calvin came through well.
“Once he got in there, the doctor said it wasn’t as bad as he thought it was,” Clyde said. “He took care of it and was pretty optimistic about Calvin being able to keep playing after proper therapy and rehab.”
At that point, it was all on Calvin to get himself back healthy, and then in football shape.
“This last year has just been battling through adversity trying to get back on the field,” Calvin said. “It was really stressful. It was hard.”
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior says he learned that he was playing with the injury longer than he knew.
“I never really played fully healthy, but I didn’t know I wasn’t healthy,” he said. “Now it’s a big difference.
“It feels great to put everything at rest and prove I’m the best. I feel like I came back better than last time. I’m a better player this year.”
As good as Calvin felt on the inside, those on the outside were cautiously hopeful as they watched him return.
“I was holding my breath with him until I saw him get into some tackles and contact in practice,” coach Mike Gundy said. “I was hoping he would be there tomorrow and push through it, and he’s done well.”
Now nearly six weeks into preseason practices, coaches and teammates are raving about Calvin’s play. He stands to bring an extra element as a pass rusher to the linebacker group that includes a pair of starters — Amen Ogbongbemiga and Malcolm Rodriguez — who had over 100 tackles apiece last season.
“I was hoping Calvin could come back and play, for him more so than for the team,” Gundy said. “As a coach, it’s just tragic when you see a young man who can’t compete anymore who still wants to play the game.
“I’m really excited for him. His attitude, his posture and his demeanor over the past two months has been fabulous. He’s smiling again. I’m just happy that he gets to get back on the field, because he loves to play football.”
The time away from the game reminded Calvin of that.
“It convinced me that this is what I want to do until I can’t do it anymore,” he said. “I want to play football.”