South: Injury forces Sweat into difficult decision
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Simultaneously, the decision was both agonizing and the easiest one Andrew Sweat ever had to make.
How could he give up on a lifelong dream -- a dream scores of others wouldn't even think about bypassing?
But any time Sweat, a Trinity High School graduate, would get tempted by the lure of suiting up for an NFL team, he'd remember how he "couldn't even feel my limbs" during a game in November at Purdue.
When Sweat was beginning to get convinced he could have a long, successful pro football career, he'd be brought back to his senses by the fact he "just knew my head wasn't right."
Every time Sweat would start to get reeled in by the game he loved, he'd take himself back to studying for finals at Ohio State and for his law boards. Then he'd remember the grueling headaches, the "barely even being able to concentrate on what I was learning."
In the end, Sweat felt he had no choice.
A linebacker, he effectively told the Cleveland Browns, "Thanks, but no thanks," for their hospitality in signing him as a rookie free agent and inviting him to their minicamp in May.
"I decided I just didn't want to take that risk with my brain and with my future," said Sweat, a two-time Fabulous 22 selection. "I decided to put my future in front of my football career, which was a really hard decision but just everything I was feeling, I knew I had to save my head to save my future."
Sweat initially planned on following in the footsteps of his father, Gary, who played football at Syracuse University, had pro football tryouts, opted to attend law school and is now a practicing attorney in Washington.
Andrew Sweat was accepted into eight law schools, and he chose Capital University in Columbus. But instead of enrolling right away, he deferred his enrollment for a year.
Sweat spent the past couple weeks interviewing for jobs in the medical sales field. He discovered the industry partially through the experiences of former fellow Ohio State linebacker Ross Homan. Homan was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 2011 but was similarly experiencing concussion symptoms, ultimately gave up football and told Sweat he found his career in medical sales rewarding.
A three-time Academic All-Big Ten Conference selection and a four-time Ohio State Scholar-Athlete, Sweat graduated with a 3.7 grade point average and a degree in finance from Ohio State's Fisher College of Business. Those who know Sweat say he usually makes the right decision.
"Whatever he does, he's going to be a successful guy," former Ohio State teammate Mike Adams said earlier this week from Steelers training camp in Latrobe. "He's a really smart guy, so he'll do well with whatever he chooses."
Had Sweat not sustained a third concussion over the course of three football seasons in November, it's hard to imagine he wouldn't have chose football. Not only were the symptoms the most severe after the concussion in the Purdue game as a senior, the cumulative effect of having three in succession also was taking its toll.
The experience started to make Sweat think twice about football and what it would mean in the grand scheme. Likewise, the injury -- and the games missed -- cooled the interest of some NFL teams.
Sweat, 6 feet 1, 232 pounds, did not play in any of the college all-star games nor participate in the NFL combine. He went from what was projected to be a surefire mid-round draft pick to a player who was in danger of going undrafted.
Still, agent Ralph Cindrich said "there was a tremendous amount of interest" on the part of NFL teams in Sweat.
"In all my years of doing this -- and there have been many -- I can't recall a guy getting that much interest right before the draft and not getting drafted," said Cindrich, who was at the forefront of the concussion epidemic as it relates to protecting the NFL players he represents.
Sweat is eager to get started in his business career, not sounding as if he has any hint of regret or hesitation to reconsider. Sweat did allow, however, that if he happens to become symptom-free for the better part of a year and an NFL team called offering a tryout next year, "I would revisit it if I was feeling completely healthy."
"Andrew's got a lot of ambition, and he's got a lot of talent," Gary Sweat said. "I tried to mention to him the pros and cons, but Andrew's got a good head on his shoulders.
"Right now, he knew football was a door he had closed on him. The last concussion was more or less the final piece of the puzzle for him. 'This just is not worth it. I'm going to get another concussion -- I play inside linebacker; violent collisions happen on every play.'"
Sweat has heard the critics -- the popular national sports website Deadspin linked to a posting on a law industry trade blog about the folly of forgoing a potential NFL career in the name of law school.
Sweat himself recognizes the decision to leave football would have been more difficult had he been a high-round draft choice assured of a roster spot and given a multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract.
"The decision would have been harder with guaranteed money, but there's still more to life than the game of football or money," Sweat said. "What does it matter if you have four or five million in the bank if you're a paraplegic?"
First Published August 2, 2012 12:00 am