A broken foot led to a mended heart for Jonathan Stupar. Ultimately, it may have saved the 23-year-old’s life.
A broken foot led to a mended heart for Jonathan Stupar.
Ultimately, it may have saved the 23-year-old’s life.
“It ended up actually being a miracle that I broke my foot,” said Stupar, an undrafted free-agent tight end from the University of Virginia in attendance at the New England Patriots’ weekend-long rookie minicamp, “because then I got out of shape real bad and ended up being able to catch some symptoms.”
Frightening symptoms like the temporary losses of vision he experienced during Christmas break from school in 2004. Frightening symptoms like the fainting spells he also experienced at that time.
“I actually broke my foot in camp that year and for the first time since probably seventh grade, I got real out of shape being on crutches and not being able to do much,” the 6-3, 254-pound Stupar said after Friday morning’s practice inside the Dana Farber Field House. “It was when I wasn’t doing much that they started seeing symptoms.
“I got a lot of blood work done. They didn’t catch anything. I went back to UVA from winter break and that’s when they did the EKG (electrocardiogram) and found it.”
Doctors found that Stupar was suffering from Wolfe Parkinson White Syndrome, a heart condition that can be fatal.
“It’s a heart abnormality,” Stupar said. “I had an extra electrical circuit in the heart and it’s something they can only catch really on an EKG.
“It was a real scary time. It’s not that much of a concern to people who aren’t exerting themselves every day, but for someone at the college level or the professional level (of football), someone who exerts himself that much, it’s really an issue because your heart can either stop or it can beat twice as fast. It’s something that was a miracle that they ended up catching and I’m really lucky to be here today.”
A consensus All-American at State College (Pa.) High School, Stupar stiff-armed any temptation to become a stay-at-home tight end and headed off to Virginia.
“I needed to get away from home,” he said. “(I) couldn’t go in the backyard. You had such a small town and growing up there, living there my whole life, I had to get away and grow up a little bit. Plus, at the time, Penn State really didn’t use their tight ends. Heath Miller (and the way he was utilized) at Virginia, it was a no brainer.”
Redshirted in 2003, after breaking his foot near the end of preseason camp in 2004, Stupar returned to make the first catch of his collegiate career, a 13-yarder, against Florida State on Oct. 16 of that year only to have that season come to an abrupt end when a checkup revealed that a screw inserted in the initial operation had popped loose.
Sidelined and out of shape, the discovery of Stupar’s heart condition was made and surgery was performed by Dr. John Mounsey of the University of Virginia Medical Center.
According to Stupar, that is all behind him now.
“It’s one of those things that once it’s done, it’s done,” he said. “It can’t come back. It’s not like something can grow and come back. Once you cut the cord, it’s done.”
Stupar went on to catch 80 passes in 29 games at Virginia where he played under former Patriots assistant coach Al Groh. Half of those receptions came in Stupar’s senior year for the Cavaliers.
“He did a good job at Virginia for Al,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. “He played on the line, blocked on the line of scrimmage. He’s got pretty good hands.
“He played in a good system, which Al runs. We’ve seen him do a variety of things. I wouldn’t say he really falls into the category of a receiving tight end or a blocking tight end. I think he’s kind of somewhere in the middle. He has skills in both. He’s a smart kid who played in a good program.”
Stupar admits that playing in that program influenced him in his decision to pass up a free-agent offer from Green Bay in order to sign with New England.
“I liked everything about this place,” said Stupar. “I love the coaches. I love the system. Al Groh coached with Bill Belichick so they kind of have a similar offense so it’s a little easier transition because a lot of the stuff is from back in college. That’s always a plus.”
Stupar joins a tight end corps that includes 2004 first-round draft pick Benjamin Watson, 2006 third rounder Dave Thomas, 2007 free-agent pickup Stephen Spach and Marcus Pollard, a 36-year-old veteran free-agent acquisition earlier this offseason.
“Getting here is just a step,” said Stupar. “Whether you get drafted or it’s free agency, it’s just the next step getting here. However the chips fall, that’s how they are. I’m just going to come out here, give it my best shot, work my butt off every day and hopefully it will pay off in the end.
“Being undrafted, there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a lot of guys out there who are undrafted who make teams. Coach Belichick made that known. No one’s guaranteed a roster spot here. You come in here and you work your butt off every day and you see how it pans out.”
Regardless of how things pan out in New England, an experience in Virginia a few years ago forever changed Stupar’s outlook on life.
“Every day I come out here I appreciate everything,” said Stupar. “The opportunity and just being out here with these guys is a miracle and a great experience.”