Wilmington native Szczerba ready to start after injury

For a three-month span last fall, Andrew Szczerba couldn’t even lift five pounds in the weight room. Now, he is back in his expected role as starting tight end for Penn State.

Szczerba, a Wilmington, Del. native, had back surgery last October to remove cartilage from a bulging disc that was pinching a nerve. After a long and slow rehab, he participated in full-contact drills at the start of the preseason and said he feels so good he often goes through practice forgetting he even had the surgery.

Two winters ago, Szczerba started feeling pain in his lower back. He tried to push through but it progressively got worse. He sat out winter workouts for a couple weeks and felt great again, so he practiced the entire spring of 2010. The disc that had been causing his back pains worsened. He even began to have nerve pain down his leg.

The back pain began to have an impact on his daily life as a student. It hurt when he sat down in class, when he walked and when he slept. “That’s when I kind of knew I had to pull the string and get something done,” he said.

Did he ever think about the possibility he might not play again?

“I know right after my surgery, a lot of thoughts definitely ran through my mind,” he said on Tuesday. “Just kind of praying a lot about it and having my family there to keep me focused and keep me motivated, I knew I’d be back on the field.”

After the surgery, he “felt like a million bucks.” That gave him some immediate confidence as he was told back surgery is never a sure thing.

He couldn’t do much of anything, Szczerba e said, during the first three months of his rehab. He said he finally felt full strength at the start of the summer and has fully participated in preseason camp. He said he has been physical., taking hits and giving hits on the practice field.

The next step? Getting back on the field for an actual game for the first time since 2009 when the 6-foot-6 tight end played in every game as a back up to Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler.

“I just want to make sure I go out there and just make sure my piece of the puzzle is 100 percent and do whatever I can to help us win games,” he said.

“I’ve definitely been anxious, definitely really nervous. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time so I’m just real excited.”

--Jake Kaplan