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Thistle 100 percent after unlikely injury; former North Allegheny lineman eager for college

| Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
Submitted
North Allegheny offensive lineman Peter Thistle helped the Tigers win back-to-back WPIAL championships. Now, he is preparing for a shot at playing college football. Submitted

Playing college football seemed like a foregone conclusion for former North Allegheny center Peter Thistle.

During his senior season last fall, the Tigers just had successfully defended the WPIAL Quad A Championship and were practicing to defend the PIAA title, too. The first practice after the Tigers won the second-straight WPIAL title, Thistle suffered a knee injury, and the college offers began to vanish.

Prior to the injury, Thistle was listening to offers from schools such as The Citadel, Wofford, Holy Cross and Lafayette. When he got hurt, all but Holy Cross pulled the offers and broke off talks.

“A big part of getting (a college) education is figuring out how to pay for it,” Thistle said. “I wanted to go to the best academic school, but in my situation, I love football, so I tried to pursue (a scholarship).”

The odd thing about Thistle's injury was that it occurred when he was a young boy, but the wear and tear of being a football player finally caused the injury to temporarily slow him down.

When he was younger, Thistle cut his leg open on the exhaust pipe of a van. The focus was on getting the bleeding to stop. As a result, nobody noticed that he knocked a part of his femur bone loose.

“I didn't even know that had happened,” Thistle said. “I had pain in the knee, but just thought I could play through it.”

Thinking the pain was just the rigors of being a lineman, Thistle went full tilt until that practice, when things finally came to a head.

Thistle was diagnosed with stage IV osteochronditis-dissecans. The fragment he jarred loose as a kid had chipped completely off his femur and was floating around inside his leg at the end of last season.

“The doctor had to go in, fish the fragment out and screw the fragment back to the femur,” Thistle said.

“The screws were in for four months before they took them out, and I had to be immobilized during that time.”

The screws were removed at the end of four months.

Thistle had to sit still while he healed but said once the surgery was finished, the pain was gone. He likened the rehab and the time frame of recovery to that of an ACL injury. The rehab also is similar.

“I was surprised how little weight I gained while I had to sit around,” he said. “If something was good about the injury, it was when it happened.

“We just won back-to-back WPIAL titles, and we lost the next game,” Thistle said. “I would have liked to play that game we lost. Maybe I could have made a difference. I will never know.”

With three championship medals in his possession, Thistle refocused on getting healthy once again and playing college football.

North Allegheny head coach Art Walker Jr. made a call to the University of Delaware, where he knew the defensive coordinator.

Walker spoke to Thistle about the school, which is Division I AA. Delaware could not offer a scholarship, but coaches told Thistle that if he walked on, he could earn a scholarship. This offer appealed to him.

“In retrospect, schools like Lafayette don't come close to the caliber of the University of Delaware,” Thistle said. “They have played in three national title games in the past 10 years.

“God has a weird sense of humor … this injury landed me at the University of Delaware, and I am excited to walk on and earn my stripes.”

Thistle said he now is at 100 percent and has been working out “old-school style.”

He said he could have played this season but opted to work out, get as fit as possible and then go to college in the spring to pursue his degree in exercise physiology and marketing and work out with the football team, with a plan of lining up on the field in 2013.

Jerry Clark is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jeclark@tribweb.com or 724-779-6979.

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