Bruce McGonnigal had worked hard to prepare for his final football season at the University of Virginia. He had spent more time in the weight room last summer than in any of his previous four years with the Cavaliers. As the starting tight end on the nation's top team, McGonnigal had a shot at becoming the school's all-time receiver.
McGonnigal's season, and his chance for the record books, likely came to an end Thursday night with injuries he suffered to the kidney and spleen. The injuries were the result a freak fall at a home that the former Loyola High School star and his girlfriend were house-sitting near the Charlottesville, Va., campus.
According to an athletic department spokesman, McGonnigal was listed in good condition yesterday at University Hospital with a bruised kidney and an unspecified injury to his spleen. McGonnigal is expected to remain hospitalized for 10 days to two weeks because of the spleen injury.
"Bruce worked this summer toward his team goals and his individual goals, and was on his way to accomplishing both," McGonnigal's father, Richard, said yesterday from the family's home in Monkton. "Hopefully, this is just a temporary roadblock."
Richard McGonnigal said it was uncertain whether his son would be back for any bowl game involving the unbeaten Cavaliers, who have this week off. Virginia (7-0) will play Nov. 3 at home against No. 16 Georgia Tech.
Before his injuries, McGonnigal had caught 17 passes in Virginia's first six games, for 239 yards and two touchdowns. McGonnigal had caught 103 passes in his college career, 25 short of tying former Cavalier John Ford as the school's all-time leading receiver.
"The irony is that they [the Virginia coaches] had inserted a number of plays to bring Bruce back into the offense," the senior McGonnigal said.
McGonnigal was injured trying to bring in several dogs belonging to the owner of the house where he and his girlfriend had been staying. Richard McGonnigal said that when it started to rain heavily, Bruce went out to the backyard to track down one of the dogs, which is deaf.
"There's a 6 1/2 -foot-wide-by-6-foot-deep brick stairway leading to the walk-out basement, and apparently Bruce slipped and fell in such a way that he injured his kidney and his spleen," said Richard McGonnigal, who visited his son during the weekend.
McGonnigal, who was knocked unconscious by the fall, suffered a concussion as well. He was brought to the hospital for the head injury and was about to get released Friday morning when a CT scan of the kidney revealed internal bleeding. Further tests showed that McGonnigal had suffered a subcapsular hematoma, which is bleeding under the shell that protects the spleen.
"The reason he is being kept in the hospital is to make sure there is no more bleeding," Dr. Frank McCue, Cavaliers team physician, said last night from Charlottesville. "Once you break the shell, you can't take any chances. In the old days, we would just take the spleen out because of this kind of injury. It's the kind of injuries you usually see in motor-vehicle accidents or a fall from a horse."
McCue said he has been told by the doctors overseeing McGonnigal's spleen injury that the 6-foot-5, 225-pound senior could be back in six to eight weeks. That would mean that McGonnigal could be eligible for postseason competition, but the athletic department spokesman said last night that the coaching staff doesn't expect McGonnigal back for the postseason.
TC McGonnigal had been invited to the Japan Bowl and the Hula Bowl college all-star games. According to pro scouts, he had been considered a middle-round draft choice because of what a National Football League general manager recently called "one of the best pair of hands in college football."