JOHNSBURG – C.J. Fiedorowicz spent Friday night smiling a lot, posing for pictures with youngsters around Johnsburg’s gymnasium and signing autographs.
Fiedorowicz, 26, was part of the first class inducted into the Johnsburg High School Athletic Hall of Fame, along with his sister, Paige. The rest of his family – father Gary, mother LeeAnn and brother Kyle – also attended.
Fiedorowicz, a 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end with the Houston Texans, is perhaps the greatest athlete to ever play in McHenry County and was a cinch for Johnsburg’s new hall. It was no surprise that such a talent landed in the NFL. It was his plan all along.
But now, Fiedorowicz is considering retirement.
A player who prides himself on his fitness, one who never has undergone a serious surgery or torn a ligament, suffered three concussions this season. Fiedorowicz feels great now and has been working out hard, but thoughts of another blow to the head are ever-present.
Fiedorowicz is coming to grips with his professional mortality.
Things were fine heading into the season. Fiedorowicz, fresh off signing a three-year, $21.5 million deal (with a little more than $10 million guaranteed) had four catches for 46 yards in the first half of the season opener against Jacksonville.
“A dude knocked me out,” he said. “After eight weeks (a period on injured reserve), when I came back, it was constantly on my mind. I wasn’t always able to play loose and free. It was in my head. Anytime that’s on your mind while you’re playing an NFL football game, you’re in trouble. You can’t play timid. Guys are trying to take your head off, you know?”
Fiedorowicz might have recovered had he not suffered two more concussions. He played only five games, catching 14 passes for 127 yards.
Being concussed again remained his foremost thought.
“I happened to get a couple of pretty bad concussions, and you can’t help but think about that,” Fiedorowicz said. “It was on my mind. … When I’m thinking about it during a game, that’s when you know it’s a problem.”
Chris Leathers, the owner and trainer at Your World Fitness in Spring Grove, has worked with Fiedorowicz, a 2010 Johnsburg graduate, since he was in high school. Leathers and two of Fiedorowicz’s other best friends, Mike Dixon and Cole Meyers, visited him in Houston after his third concussion and a season-ending trip to the IR.
“We spent time with him and had some conversations,” Leathers said. “That’s all I’m going to say about that.”
The NFL has increased awareness of head injuries over the past decade as the medical profession has gained more knowledge about concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which the Boston University CTE Center describes as “a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma.”
“There’s no denying modern science,” Leathers said. “I think it’s important, and it allows people to make greater decisions. Mentally, he’s happy and healthy. You spend three seconds with the guy, and you know he’s doing great. For all the people who love and care about him, that’s awesome. That’s all we care about.”
Leathers said Fiedorowicz is in his best shape ever. Fiedorowicz bought a one-way ticket to Chicago and plans on working out at Your World Fitness for an undetermined amount of time.
Fiedorowicz eventually will head back to West Palm Beach, Florida, where he bought an offseason home close to Paige. He knows a tough decision is forthcoming.
“You can’t go repair your brain,” he said. “It’s not like an ACL or shoulder. That’s serious. I took some dingers. There was a couple of weeks there where I was having some tough times. This is what I’ve done my whole life, so to think that I’m going to walk away is tough. It’s not something that I thought of doing, because I signed the new deal, anytime soon. Life goes on, whatever happens.”
Fiedorowicz plans on attending the Texans’ workouts that start April 2, then their organized team activities in mid-May. By then, he may know what lies with his future.
“I have a backup plan,” he said. “I’ve realized money is not happiness. Money definitely gives you freedom, but I’ve played four years. I’ve accomplished things I wanted to accomplish. It’s more about making my town happy, making my family happy and being able to enjoy the rest of my life.”
Fiedorowicz said he might even sit out the 2018 season and reconsider next offseason.
“I know I enjoy working out enough to be able to continue playing, but maybe I just need a little time away,” Fiedorowicz said. “I don’t have to make that decision right now.”