Not that anyone would have foreseen this moment, but just for the sake of it, let’s trip back to the winter of 2009 in Mount Dora and suppose we had asked former Florida State football player Bruce Heggie Sr., what he would be doing in 2011 if the ’Noles were making a bowl trip to Orlando.
No brainer. Of course he would be there and the former Seminole (1983-86) would be decked out in FSU Garnet and Gold right along with the rest of the family, including wife Susan, oldest son Bruce Jr., next in line Ben, a senior; daughter Makenzie Faith, a junior; and the youngest Brett, an eighth-grader.
As we venture back to the future, however, it’s quite interesting how things can change.
Florida State will indeed be playing in Orlando in the Champs Sports Bowl on Thursday night, but there won’t be any garnet donned by the Heggie family. They’ll be all-in, with plenty of gold accenting navy blue, the official colors of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
And Bruce Jr., will not be in the stands with the rest of the family. He’ll be walking the sidelines, wearing No. 51, a sophomore back-up center/guard for the 2011 Irish football team. He might even get on the field.
He was on the field earlier this season for the first time at Notre Dame, making spot time at center against Air Force after injuries hit the Irish offensive front, most notably to starting center Braxston Cave, who was lost for the season in the same game.
He shouldn’t even be there, they said. Scour the Notre Dame message boards from the past and most members chimed in back then with their “expertise.” Said he’d never see the field.
Well, he’s already done that, so now what? Time will tell, as it has already.
Bruce Heggie Jr., a 2010 grad of Mount Dora High, a tight end and defensive end for Coach Chad Grabowski’s Hurricanes back then, wasn’t good enough, wasn’t big enough (at 6-4, 240-pounds), wasn’t fast enough, wasn’t … well, just wasn’t.
“I definitely am not the best athlete out there on the field. I’m not the most talented, but I would say that just through working hard, giving 100 percent and having the right attitude has helped me a lot,” Heggie said after Monday’s practice adjacent the Florida Citrus Bowl, venue for Thursday’s game.
It was a strange trip for Heggie, from Mount Dora to South Bend, Ind., and back to Mount Dora and Orlando. A round-tip two years in the making that would have confused any GPS system, and still has many college scouts scratching their heads.
Heggie entered his senior season at Mount Dora in 2009 with high hopes, but a groin injury set him back early, and as the season came to a close, the best he could come up with for a college scholarship was an offer from Florida A&M.
The Rattlers staff pulled that offer; told him no official visit.
He was back at square one. He did play six games, after missing the opening three with a nagging groin injury. He caught 16 passes and three touchdowns as a tight end, and had four sacks as defense end, but those weren’t quite the numbers expected.
Not even Dad’s alma mater, once a promising suitor of the young Heggie, would bat an eye his way. A player who came out of an FSU summer camp in Tallahassee to rave reviews, suddenly couldn’t even get a phone call returned.
Christmas passed. New Year’s came and went. It was beginning to wear on Heggie as the days crawled ever closer to National Signing Day. But Heggie kept working out, diligently following his daily schedule, keeping faith that someone, somewhere would give him a look.
Then it happened.
Somebody remembered Heggie as new head coach Brian Kelly began his transition from Cincinnati to Notre Dame.
"It was definitely surprising," Heggie Jr. said back then. "Notre Dame is an epic school. I certainly didn't see this coming. Especially after some of the other schools said they'd recruit me and then backed out of it."
Defensive line coach Mike Elston was the advance scout who set the stage for Heggie’s Notre Dame Dreamscape with an in-home visit.
“We had very little time to recruit … so what we did is we went out and looked for program guys,” remembered Kelly, who was hired by Notre Dame, Dec. 10, 2009. “We had a relationship with that high school [Mount Dora] with Tim Hinton, who was with me on my staff at Cincinnati. We brought Bruce up for a visit, we really liked his intangibles at the time. He wasn’t physically developed to the level he is today, but we really liked what he stood for.
“He was a sharp kid and one we thought would be a program kid, and it’s turned out that way. He’s now running third center for us, actually second right now with an injury to our starter, so he’s progressed nicely for us. He’s a lot bigger (6-5, 280 pounds) physically, has developed very nicely.”
Hinton was the key, as Heggie Jr., said in a previous Sentinel article, Jan. 29, 2010.
"Coach Hinton was working with me and he really liked me when he was at Cincinnati, but then they crunched their numbers and they didn't have anything." Heggie said. "But when they made the transition over to Notre Dame, Coach Hinton made a point to bring my name up. He remembered me, remembered that they had liked my film and decided to give me a call."
Quite a change going from no college scholarship offers, to sitting in Brian Kelly’s office as the coach asks him to come play at Notre Dame.
“God is good. He helped me out on this one,” Heggie said Monday. “I’m happy where I’m at and I’m looking to grow even more here at Notre Dame.”
It wasn’t easy for Heggie at first, but he was always known for being a hard worker.
“I think just picking up the pace of the game [was difficult]. The Division I level is so much faster than the high school level and it’s a little bit more complex too, as far as the playbook and getting to know the other teams and scouting reports and things like that,” Heggie said. “So I would say it’s a mix between the knowledge of the game and the tempo.”
The 4.2 student at Mount Dora still had some early learning hurdles to straddle in the classroom, but that too began to sink in to a comfort level for Heggie, who says he’s finally feeling like a bona-fide member of the Notre Dame student body.
“In the classroom, going to Notre Dame, it’s not easy but they have a great support staff with tutors and things like that,” Heggie said. “It’s difficult, it’s challenging, but I feel like I’m getting the best education at Notre Dame.”
And don’t think there’s been any rivalry stuff going on in the Heggie household while Junior was home visiting earlier last week for the holidays.
“My dad, he played for Florida State, so it’s a great matchup. He said he’s going to wear gold and blue on Thursday, so he’ll be supporting me,” Bruce Jr. said. “I know my little brother grew up a Florida State fan, as well, so it’s just a great, fun, family thing.
With no jabs being tossed about.
“No trash talk from my dad. He’s the one guy I can always call up and he’s always there to support me. Same thing with my mom. They’re just happy where I’m at and what I’m doing here at Notre Dame, so they’re all going to be wearing No. 51, all Notre Dame on Thursday.”
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at email@example.com.