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By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001
Evan Doyle couldn't believe his ears.
One week earlier, the Jesuit senior had heard goalkeeper Justin Trowbridge had an enlarged spleen, a condition that could kill him if he took a hard enough shot to the area.
At the very least, it would sideline him for four to six weeks, keeping him out of the two most important games of his high school career.
Now, here was Trowbridge back at school, telling Doyle he was ready to play in the state semifinal after missing just two days of school, a couple of practices and a game.
"Would you repeat that?" Doyle said.
Doyle had some concerns about Trowbridge returning to the field so quickly. He feared for his friend's health. He feared for his friend's life.
But Saturday at Pepin/Rood Stadium, there was Trowbridge, stopping every shot that came his way in Jesuit's state championship victory. And there was Doyle, high-fiving Trowbridge before joining him atop the mosh pit of players celebrating at midfield.
John Kluft's shot off of a defender in the 76th minute lifted Jesuit to a 1-0 win over Riviera Beach Suncoast. But Trowbridge's unexpected return might have given his teammates an even bigger pick-me-up.
"He's been the heart and soul for us in goal the last two years," Jesuit coach Bob Bauman said.
How did Trowbridge make the season's most remarkable recovery?
It turns out, the illness was not as serious as Doyle feared.
Not at the time, anyway.
Three weeks ago, Trowbridge, 18, started feeling tired. He found himself going to bed earlier than usual. But he chalked it up to the heavy workload he was carrying at school.
About 21/2 weeks later, the symptoms worsened. Trowbridge's throat hurt. He developed a fever. He began vomiting.
He slept in the car on the ride home from Palmetto after Jesuit's 3-0 win in the regional semifinals looking "deathly sick," according to his father, Ron.
The next day, Trowbridge went to his pediatrician, who diagnosed him with mononucleosis and an enlarged spleen. The doctor told him the illness would keep him off the field for four to six weeks.
"I knew at that point I had played my last high school soccer game for Jesuit," Trowbridge said.
He spent the next couple of days taking antibiotics, watching television, killing time.
Jesuit turned to freshman Keith Meehan for the regional final, a 2-1 win over Lake Gibson. Stash Graham, Trowbridge's backup last season, rejoined the team and was named the starter for the state semifinal against Gulf Breeze.
But Trowbridge decided he had to play in the game. He was a junior varsity player when Jesuit won the state title his freshman season and a varsity backup when the Tigers defended the title the following season. He had been on championship teams, but he never truly felt like a champion.
Last season, Trowbridge finally got his shot. He shut out 16 opponents while helping Jesuit to the state final. But a 3-1 loss to Orlando Bishop Moore left him heartbroken.
"The saddest day of his life was when he lost last year and came off the field," Trowbridge's father said.
After having three sonograms to monitor the size of his spleen, taking numerous blood tests and checking with two other doctors, Trowbridge returned to the pediatrician.
The swelling in his spleen had gone down, and his white blood cell count had decreased.
Doctors ultimately determined Trowbridge was not in the first stages of mononucleosis, but the last.
"He played most of the season with mono," Bauman said in amazement.
After Jesuit's players received their medals Saturday, co-captains Trowbridge and Eric Grzybowski were presented with the team trophy. As his parents, Ron and Becky, watched from the stands, Trowbridge accepted the trophy and held it high for all to see.
For Jesuit, the state championship was its fourth in five years. For Trowbridge, it was the first that really meant something.
"That's what we've been working for all year," Trowbridge said. "To get back to this game and win it this year."