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College: University Southern California (USC)
Rare disease connection: Not long after reporting to USC for his freshman year as a highly touted linebacker out of Florida, Telfort was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy during a routine physical. This condition results in an enlarged heart and makes prolonged exertion potentially fatal.
His Story: Frankie Telfort could have gone to college almost anywhere.
The highly touted star linebacker recruit out of Miami eventually chose USC, led by then-coach Pete Carroll. The sky was the limit. Telfort was projected to see major playing time as a true freshman because of so many graduating seniors.
This was a dream scenario for Telfort until a heart murmur was detected during a routine physical at football camp.
More tests were run and it was determined Telfort had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that results in an enlarged heart and makes prolonged exertion potentially fatal. Telfort has a rare form of the condition that is severe enough to sideline him for good.
“I just arrived on campus and I was ready to go,” Telfort said.
But in an instant, it all was all taken away. Telfort had to give up the game he loved, the game in which he showed so much promise. His dreams were gone.
“I didn’t even know at the time that my last high school football game was the last game I would ever play,” he said.
The risk of playing was too high. He would never be cleared by doctors, plus the risk of sudden death was extremely high. Instead of walking away completely and possibly leaving USC altogether , Frankie stuck with football in a different capacity. He became a student-coach.
So for the past four years, Telfort has been on the sidelines at USC, learning the intricacies of coaching and helping some of his former teammates on the field. He says he’s learned to enjoy the new challenge and, after four years, believes his football IQ is superior.
“It’s like I’ve been a coach, under some great coaches, since I was 18,” Telfort said.
Staying active has always been a part of Telfort’s life. He can still exercise, but he has to limit the time he exerts himself. Because hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is not curable, Telfort will always have the condition. He will always have to be careful.
And while his collegiate career wasn’t exactly what Telfort had hoped for, it has opened other doors. He recently went to Japan to work as a camp counselor. In Tokyo, he taught football to children displaced by the tsunami. It was an opportunity that would not have been available if Telfort were still playing.
“I try to always tell my teammates to think about what they would do without football,” Telfort says.
With four years of experience now under his belt, Telfort is considering going into coaching. In addition, the senior is also interested in becoming a physician’s assistant. His collegiate career has taught him the ultimate lesson.
“Don’t plan your future,” Telfort said. “Have options.”