It wasn’t “just a bruise.” How this injury changed the career for an ex-TCU safety

Deshawn McCuin figures had he stayed at home, rather than go to the emergency room to address what looked like a bad bruise, he’d be dead.

Or, at least he would be without his left leg.

Today, the former TCU safety is at San Diego State University, preparing to play this season and possibly next at safety for the Aztecs.

He is the invisible face of the NCAA’s transfer portal; the young person who transfers to the spot where he could potentially start, while earning another degree.

There are a lot more Deshawn McCuins than Bear Alexanders, the former Georgia starting defensive tackle who transferred to USC this offseason for only God knows how much cash and toys.

McCuin wasn’t the five-star kid from IMG, like Alexander.

McCuin was a three-star kid from Jacksonville, Texas (pop. 14,000), and he took full advantage of what TCU offered. He was a member of the Fiesta Bowl team that played in the national title game, so he loaded up on swag, and he earned his undergraduate degree from TCU.

He didn’t leave TCU for any other reason than he’s going to a place where he has a better chance to play. Also, it’s San Diego.

“Have you been there?” he asked.

Compelling argument.

In July, he packed his car and made the two-day drive across America’s western desert to start a new chapter of his life. That this chapter will include football is a minor miracle.

It wasn’t “just a bruise”

Sitting in a gym after a game of pickup basketball not quite two years later, McCuin can still see every frame of a play that changed his life.

“It was a red zone play. SMU had trips formation,” he said. “Three seconds left in the first half.”

Then a redshirt sophomore, it was McCuin’s first college start, on Sept. 25, 2021 at home versus SMU.

“They ran a route in the back of the end zone, and we practiced it all the time,” he said. “I know what’s coming. I know where they are going to throw it.”

He intercepted SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai’s pass. As McCuin came down his left thigh was hit by SMU receiver Rashee Rice’s knee.

The adrenaline from the play masked any pain from what looked like a routine football hit.

McCuin hobbled to the trainer’s table in the locker room at half time; the early diagnosis was a “hematoma” that could be managed with some massaging.

McCuin played in the second half, or he tried. He could barely walk, and he left the game in the third quarter.

After the game, he returned to his apartment in Fort Worth. No position was comfortable. Then he looked at the “bruise.”

“It was totally white,” he said. “I knew it had no blood circulation. I was pretty scared.”

His mother was in town, as was a childhood friend who happens to be a nurse. They drove him to the emergency room.

“The doctors told me if I had stayed the night at home, and not come in, I would not be here today,” he said. “They told me that after the third surgery.”

He had four procedures in less than 12 hours.

“It really hit me when I got back home that I could have died,” he said.

He had sustained “thigh compartment syndrome.”

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “TCS is a rare (0.3% of trauma patients) condition of elevated pressure within a constrained space that may cause necrosis of all tissues within the compartment resulting in severe local (infection, amputation) and systemic complications (renal insufficiency, even death).”

In the immediate days, weeks and months after the injury he was only too sure football was over. There was the wheelchair. There were crutches.

Initially he needed help to get out of bed. A trip to the restroom was an adventure.

He lost 15 pounds, and that muscular leg looked like a No. 2 pencil.

“I thought there was no way I was going to play again,” he said. “It was depressing. I felt like I wasn’t an athlete any more. I had no will to go to school. Those first two months were really hard.”

Since he was on track to graduate early, and football was “over,” he looked for jobs in Frisco in Arlington.

With the help from his mom dad, family members and friends, he did find his way back to football.

“I never would have thought that an injury like that would be the one that could really harm me,” he said. “I’ve played football for years, and I’ve had nicks and bruises, but something like this I didn’t think was possible.”

Moving on to San Diego

McCuin did return and played in eight games for TCU last season, including the national title against Georgia.

After the season, like so many college players, he put his name in the transfer portal to see what was available.

“That is nothing like when you’re recruited out of high school,” he said. “When you’re in the portal, you’re doing all the work. It was just about wanting to play more. I was behind (on TCU’s depth chart), and this is a fresh start and I’ve started to feel like my football-self again.”

McCuin earned his undergraduate degree from TCU last fall in business administration. His plan now is to play in his remaining two years of NCAA eligibility, and earn a Master’s Degree from San Diego State.

The dream is the NFL, but he is well aware football will end and he will do something else.

Watching him run, play football, or dunk a basketball with little effort, one could never conceive that it wasn’t that long ago the leg that springs him above the rim is the same one that nearly ended his life.