In November of 2009, Clay Bignell layquietly in his hospitalbed, not yet aware of the severity of what he’d just gonethrough.
Montana State was days removed from a key Big Sky Conferencevictory over Sacramento State, but Bignell, then a sophomore, had amuch greater concern.
Not long after the game, Bignell’s back was aching to the pointhe could barely walk. This wasn’t wear and tear from making ateam-high 11 tackles, either.
He knew something was wrong.
Eventually, doctors’ tests showed Bignell had a staph infectionin his spinal column, a potentially fatal condition if not quicklyeradicated.
“We went into the hospital, they took my blood, and my whiteblood cells were through the roof,” Bignell recalled. “They MRI’dit and saw that it was an infection. They had to do three surgeriesto get it out of there.
“It was pretty serious. They said when I went under that I wastwo hours away from it spreading to my vital organs and themshutting down.”
Days after surgery and with a cleaner bill of health, Bignellwas so drugged up that he didn’t realize the victory he’d won.
But since he’s been back full-time at his familiar middlelinebacker position ” hounding quarterbacks and chasingball-carriers ” Bignell, now a senior, is still beholden to a newlease on football.
And on life.
“I’m so grateful,” Bignell said. “I was really lucky. I wastruly blessed to come out of there and come back and be as healthyas I ever was.”
A product of the juggernaut at Helena Capital High School,Bignell was born to be a Bobcat.
His uncle, Joe, is widely considered to be the greatest tightend in MSU history, and still holds the school record for mostcareer receptions (169). Joe Bignell caught 88 passes during theBobcats’ run to the national championship in 1984.
Additionally, Clay’s brother Brian and his cousin Nate, bothdefensive linemen, are currently members of the MSU squad.
But Clay is forging his own legacy in Bozeman.
At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Bignell moves well for his size andis light on his feet. He is as sure a tackler as there is on MSU’sdefense, and has great range in pass coverage.
He made 71 tackles before his health scare in 2009, and waseventually named second-team All-Big Sky.
Bignell was limited last season due to an ankle injury, andstarted only five games. But he put together an 11-tackleperformance in the Bobcats’ near-upset of Washington