Gaona: Tough-to-replace Michalczik eyes return for Foothills

Max Michalczik had just helped the Catalina Foothills football team pull off one of the biggest wins in program history, a 23-17 victory against a Cienega team the Falcons had never been able to conquer in 12 tries.

Then, suddenly, Max was left battling a different, much tougher opponent: A virus left him hospitalized for four nights and has kept him off the field.

“I was thinking right out of the hospital I could come to practice but that’s not how it is,” said Max, the son of UA offensive line coach Jim Michalczik. “I just try to wake up and be positive, hope for the best and hope I can practice that day or hope to get closer to practicing and feeling better because I want to be out with the guys.”

The 6-foot-3-inch 212-pound junior contracted an acute parvovirus — a respiratory infection — and was hospitalized Sept. 9. The pain began five days earlier when Max landed on his right hand while making a tackle in the third quarter against Cienega. It immediately began to swell up, he said, and it was “puffy like a balloon” after the game.

Two days later, after the swelling had diminished a little, Max had his hand checked out and was told it was not broken. He was able to practice Monday and Tuesday of last week.

The following day, though, things took a turn for the worse.

Max left school to go see Dr. Christopher G. Stevens at Tucson Orthopaedic Institute with his mother. By the time they arrived, the pain in his feet and hands was so unbearable that Stevens directly admitted Max to the adjacent Oro Valley Hospital.

“It was like a throbbing, aching pain,” Max said. “It was the most painful thing I’ve ever been through.”

Max could not sleep and did not want to lay down or sit, so he paced around his hospital room. His mother tried to comfort him, but it hurt when she tried to rub his back.

“It was honestly the most difficult think I’ve ever been through, to just see him in so much pain,” Jen Michalczik said. “Nothing could relieve it for 24 hours; he was in excruciating pain and all I could do was talk him through it and just be there next to him. It was awful.”

By Friday, doctors had diagnosed Max with a virus, to the relief of his family. He slowly began to feel better — with the exception of the stomach issues caused by all the pain medications.

Jim Michalczik traveled with the Arizona Wildcats to Saturday’s game at Nevada, only because it appeared the worst of the virus had passed. UA coach Rich Rodriguez watched last week with concern: Not only is Jim Michalczik one of his trusted assistants, but Rodriguez’s son, Rhett, is one of Max’s best friends and teammates.

“The biggest concern was nothing athletically at all, it was Max getting healthy,” Rich Rodriguez told the Star this week. “He’s a great kid. Rhett is good friends with him. He wasn’t concerned about not having a teammate ready; he was concerned about Max’s health.”

One of the good things that came out of the struggle was the tremendous outpouring of support, Jen Michalczik said, not just from the school but from the community. After beating McClintock 40-7 on Friday night, Foothills players posed for a picture behind a banner with a No. 44, Max’s jersey number.

“I heard the students were chanting my name,” he said. “When I came back, everyone was so welcoming and happy. It’s a cool thing because we have such a family relationship, something you don’t see on most teams.”

Max has made progress every day since Saturday, his mother said.

“It wasn’t a fun situation at all; I’m really happy to be back,” Max said. “It wasn’t good. I don’t plan on going (back) to the hospital soon.”

Michalczik hopes to be back on the field next week. He can be found walking the sideline of Foothills’ game at Rincon/University on Friday, Sept. 18.

Wednesday marked the first time since his illness that he was able to stand through an entire practice. Max’s teammates can’t wait for him to return as much as he can’t wait to get back in the huddle.

“He does it all,” Rhett Rodriguez said. He’s our long-snapper, he’s our tight end, he plays defense for us. He almost never comes out of the game and he’s a great player at everything he does so that is someone that is tough to replace.”

By Daniel Gaona, September 17, 2015

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