DRAPER — Corner Canyon’s coaches knew they had a hole to plug, and they believed Max Swensen — whose left foot was shaped like a golf club at birth — was the perfect candidate.
Born with a clubbed foot, Swensen never let the pain and adversity brought on by numerous surgeries as a child deter him athletically. Instead it created a mentality of perseverance, a trait his football coaches knew would pay dividends in a position switch.
For two years Mikey Petty wreaked havoc for opponents from his defensive end position, ultimately earning a scholarship to Southern Utah. He was the lone defensive line graduate from last year’s elite group, and the coaches believed plugging that hole with a strong replacement should lead to another elite defensive front in 2018.
During Corner Canyon’s 7-on-7 slate of camps back in June, defensive coordinator Casey Sutera approached Swensen and told him they wanted to switch him from linebacker to defensive end.
Swensen said obviously he was willing to do what was best for the team, but admitted feeling a bit hesitant. He hadn’t played defensive end since little league and the thought of playing out of a three-point stance after three high school seasons at linebacker was intimidating.
After that initial reservation passed, Swensen realized what an honor it was to be tasked with filling Petty’s shoes.
“It felt cool to have a coach come up and give you that sign of respect,” said Swensen, whose team takes on Skyridge this Friday in the 5A state championship at Rice-Eccles Stadium at 6 p.m.
The senior has thrived with the position shift. He leads the Chargers with 8.5 sacks and ranks third in tackles with 58.
“He’s been really good there, especially with how smart he is. He has a great feel, instinct wise for flow plays, screens or any of that stuff, he does a really, really good job,” said Corner Canyon coach Eric Kjar.
Swensen said he’s really enjoyed playing defensive end this season and is looking forward to the rematch with Skyridge after losing 34-33 to the Falcons in last year’s semifinals.
Win or lose, the day after Thanksgiving next week Swensen will go in for what will hopefully be the final surgery on his legs. Most of the dozen or so surgeries he’s undergone have been on his clubbed left foot, but next week’s surgery will be to remove metal plates from his right leg which were inserted when he was a freshman to slow the growth of that leg.
More than half of his surgeries occurred before Swensen was 3 years old. Doctors would cut ligaments in his foot and slowly bend the foot toward a straighter and then cast it. He was two weeks old when he got his first cast and was in a cast until he was about 8 months old.
Since turning 3 Swensen has had six surgeries that have coincided with his natural growth. Doctors said now that he’s stopped growing there’s no need for the plates in his right leg anymore.
“When I was younger it used to bug me a lot more, after long periods of walking or running it would hurt,” said Swensen, who said his feet often still hurt especially in the morning before “I warm them up.”
Having one leg longer than the other leads to additional pain in the hips and spine.
“I get pain all the time. I’ve never not had pain, so I don’t know what the normal would be,” said Swenson.
His mom Susan Swensen said her son limps some days more than others, but he’s never used that as an excuse.
“He never complained. I know he’s in pain, but he just wants to get out there,” said Susan Swenson.Comment on this story
Football isn’t the only thing he’s got out there to do either. Swensen played baseball before his parents felt comfortable letting him play football beginning in elementary school, and he played during his freshman season at Corner Canyon as well. He also throws the shot put and discus during track season.
Swensen also grew up in a family that likes to ski, so snow skiing and water skiing have been a norm in his life after surgeries straightened his left foot out.
“Doctor (Peter M. Stevens) has always told us to just go for it, go for whatever you want to,” said Susan Swensen, who said she was always grateful for the expertise of the University of Utah doctor.