Two years ago, Tommy Heffernan questioned if he’d ever play football again after he was involved in a car accident that took the life of his best friend, Andrew Parker.
“I got into a car accident. One of my best friends, who lived with me at my house and stuff throughout high school, was the closest person to me in my entire life. My freshman year, I came up here [and] tore up my shoulder, so I had surgery was out the whole season and our first away game I decided to go visit him, he went to the University of Florida.
"[I] went down there and ended up getting into a really bad car accident and he died and [I] just kind of really was lost. [I] didn’t really know what to do, didn’t want to come back to school. I ended up going back home and seeking some medical attention and stuff just to kind of get my head on right and I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to play football again.
"You know, I was questioning a lot of things in life at the time, didn’t really know the meaning of everything and then from my parents, I thank them every day for as much as they did for me. My mom and my dad were my absolute supporters, [they] kind of got me back up here and started getting into the role of things and got back to playing the sport I love and you know, there’s no other place I’d want to do it than here, so got back to school and just got back on track in my life.”
After the accident, Heffernan used football as a way to honor his childhood friend by not giving up on his dreams.
“It was huge, you know, it’s a stress reliever. It’s everything, but it’s something that I’ve been playing since I was four years old, so something that you know is a part of you, your whole life – it’s hard to drop and that also kind of got me back into the swing of things. You know, I had a really traumatic incident, everything was kind of out of sync and you know, and then getting back on the field kind of gets everything rolling again and I’m really thankful that I ended up coming back up here because I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have football.”
On the field, Heffernan had been a journeyman. This season, he finally found his place in the Carolina starting lineup.
“It’s a long road. The beginning of training camp, Coach Vic said that he wanted to move me mike behind Kevin Reddick so I played will in the spring and that was definitely a transition. I was playing mike, you know, learning as much as I could behind Kevin Reddick and then after the Wake Forest game, Coach came up to me and said he wanted to move me to will and have me practice there this week – see how me and Travis did, and that he was going to decide a started before the Louisville game and a couple days before the Louisville game I got the nod that I was going to get the start and it kind of just went from there.
“It’s a crazy ride, man. It’s like a roller coaster. You know the last couple of years have been absolutely insane. But it’s a blessing, I look at every day as an absolute blessing and you know, I’m playing the sport I love – being out on the field and representing the university like this is something I’ve always wanted to do since I was 8 or 9 years old, so I just take every day in stride and wake up every morning thankful for what I have and what I’m doing.”