Sidelined by Addiction: A former Notre Dame football player's road to recovery

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Playing for the Fighting Irish, you expect to face tough opponents, but nothing could have prepared Mike Heuerman for the fight of his life.

Mike Heuerman

Mike's days around Notre Dame's campus look a lot different than in years past. He's found a love for reading, his dog and most importantly himself.

"I feel happy, I feel proud," Mike says. "Truly I don't think I've been this healthy and happy in my life, and I've learned so much on the way, mainly the most in these past couple of years."

Growing up with two brothers and a father who played in the NBA, sports were always in the picture. In 2013, Mike signed his letter of intent to join the Fighting Irish, to play football at the University of Notre Dame.

"When I visited Notre Dame, it was game over. It's such a special campus, such a special place," he said.

Sadly, his excitement on the gridiron was quickly derailed by a laundry list of injuries.

"I had been playing on a fracture in my right hip for north of a year. It had drained all the joint fluid over there, so it was just bone on bone. I tore the labrum in my right hip, and then I tore all the cartilage. From overcompensating, I tore the labrum in my left hip and that caused me to completely tear my lower left core muscle from my pubic bone," Mike said.

Mike was put on medical scholarship. He flew out of state for bilateral hip and bilateral core surgery and was prescribed opioids.

He said, "With my mental state and my physical state, I was in a lot of pain with both. I still remember being in that hotel after surgery and taking those medications and it was like all of that went out the window. All my concerns about no longer playing football, like I failed and now I have school that I'm missing, and I already know I'm not going to finish well. All of that stuff goes out the window and it numbs away those real-life worries that make people, people."

As Mike’s physical pain started to fade away, his psychological dependency on the drugs only grew stronger. The athlete was now an addict.

"It starts with painkillers, and then it's painkillers that you can get your hands on, and then really it's whatever you can get your hands on. So yeah I moved on and at the time, what was available to me was heroin," he said.

Mike pushed his sports-loving family away.

"It takes over, it becomes priority number one in every aspect of your life and it slowly eats away at all the other aspects of your life. It was day to day on what was going to happen and whether I would live to come out of that day," he said.

But his family never left his side.

"I saw how much I was lying to my family and I was literally fighting to just get through the day and I realized I needed help," Mike said. "I really don't even know if I would be alive today if it weren't for my family."

Those who love him, gave him some options, but it was Mike himself who got in the car and drove from Indiana to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Minnesota.

Now, this December will mark two years clean for Mike. Since then he rescued his dog Hank, and he also repaired his relationship with his family, especially his older brother Jeff who plays for the Denver Broncos. While away in rehab, Mike had one goal, a driving force that’s kept him going.

"I wanted to come back here and finish what I started because I knew if I didn't at least try, I would have wished I had the rest of my life," he said.

And that brings us to today. After re-applying, Notre Dame honored Mike's medical scholarship, bringing him back to this special campus to get his degree.

"Everyone has wishes that they could have done before, and I wish I could have done more for the football program and for Notre Dame and be the person that I know Coach Kelly knew I could be," Mike said.

December won’t only be a milestone for Mike's sobriety. At 25 years old, Mike will graduate with a degree in Management Consulting from the University of Notre Dame.

When asked if Notre Dame has helped Mike find himself, he responded, "Definitely, and I think just being back here has allowed me to not only find myself but connect with myself again and figure out not only who it is I am but what I want to do and who I want to become. It just pushes me to be a better person day after day."