The Unfamiliar Emotions of Football

Following several injuries that caused him to miss much of last season, along with spring camp, Justin Luettgerodt said, "It's been like one long off-season for me." For senior outside linebacker Paul Walkenhorst, the feeling is more than mutual.

Paul Walkenhorst, a Highland, Utah native, has first started at linebacker as a freshman following a season-ending injury to former BYU linebacker Jeff Holtry. Five years later, after a two-year hiatus, Walkenhorst has battled back both physically and emotionally to triumphantly regain the starting outside linebacker position. It is a situation that not many athletes or fans can personally understand.

"I think things are going great as far as me personally," said Walkenhorst. "It's just good to be back in football. I had big expectations coming in and a lot of people counted me out, and I knew I could still play and it's just fun to prove myself this camp and play ball. It's just fun being out there with my buddies playing football again."

The amount of time Walkenhorst had been away from the game affected him emotionally. Naturally, the question of whether or not he could step back onto the field and perform at the same high level enters the mind of even the most experienced and talented athlete.

Following a successful junior season in 2002 as one of the most productive linebackers in the Mountain West Conference, Walkenhorst missed the 2003 spring camp with a knee injury. He was also absent in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Walkenhorst not only suffered from difficult back pains resulting from gridiron related activity, but the 6'6", 260 pound bruiser also fought an internal battle as well.

"I just got my mind right," Walkenhorst said. "I was so down because I hadn't played in so long and my confidence was down. I've been seeing this lady who's been helping me with my mind set and helping me get my confidence back."

With the help of a family friend, Walkenhorst was able to overcome the personal and emotional effects he had been enduring for so long.

"She's a counselor/friend who has a background in psychology." said Walkenhorst. "I struggled a little bit with anxiety and she really gave me some tools to battle a lot of this emotional stuff to get me back to being the kind of person I was before my injury happened."

During fall camp, Walkenhorst performed so well that BYU coaches simply could not keep the 2002 Steele's College Football Preview top linebacker selection from the outside linebacker spot following a minor stint at defensive end.

"This past spring I mentioned it to the coaches that we had a lot of linebackers and we were a little shallow at D-line, so they let me try it," said Walkenhorst. "But I've been playing linebacker my whole life so, this is the first time I've really played in this defense. I played in it during spring ball but you can't really get a feel for the game just playing in spring ball. This is the first real chance I've had at it and its fun. Its fun to play in and exciting: it fits a lot of different people's personalities. Coming into the defense [Coach Mendenhall] will fix it to meet a lot of different people's style of playing."

When Walkenhorst took the field against Boston College as the starting right outside linebacker, the old pre-game nerves arose as they do with just about every athlete before taking the center stage. Now, Walkenhorst feels he has pretty much overcome much of those old stumbling blocks and has acclimated himself back onto familiar grounds.

"Yeah, I was nervous that first game [Boston College] and it had been so long, but now that I've played two games I'm starting to feel the confidence come back, and I feel at home out there and it's just good to be back with those guys," said Walkenhorst.

Following a win against EIU and a bye week, BYU faces TCU this Saturday. A confident and excited Paul Walkenhorst is ready to suit up to defend LaVell Edwards Stadium against the speedy Horned Frogs of Texas.

"Yeah we've got a good couple of weeks on them now and we know they're a good team with three really good running backs, and they have a really good quarterback," commented Walkenhorst. "You know after watching them play in that Utah game you got to be prepared for the option, and they're a really fast team from Texas. We expect them to be fast and physical but those are the kind of games we like.

"It's actually pretty similar to New Mexico's offense and we've all played against New Mexico, and there are a lot of other different things but at the same time it's that same kind of style. So we've seen bits and pieces from different teams but at the same time we've had two weeks to prepare for them and this will be our second week, so I think we'll be prepared for them."

Whether or not BYU's defense holds TCU from winning this game on Saturday, one thing is certain, linebacker Paul Walkenhorst has already fought and succeeded over an opponent most will never come to know.

"I'm just glad to be back playing again," he concluded with a smile.


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