It's been three years and a gamut of injuries since Chris Septak left the high school field as a prep All-American. Within that three years, you could write a book on the setbacks Septak has in regards to injuries. From his shoulder, to his knees to the dreaded athletic pubitis, Chris has lived behind road blocks since he dawned the Husker garb.
Well and you can hear Chris knocking on wood, he's finally healthy, finally ready to go. When he came out of high school, some thought he couldn't be stopped, but because of constant nagging health issues, that's just what he was. It's not a time to lament for Septak though as he isn't going in scared that he could get injured once again, rather, he's going in with the mindset that (for him) it's now or never. "It's been 4 since I have played the game of football." Chris said. "Now, it's not a matter of , I have to do this or this, it's just about having fun."
If there is one thing that you can be certain of during Chris's sabbatical, he's learned to appreciate the game. A game that seemed to come so naturally to him, he has for years now, seen only from the sidelines, stands or at home in front of the TV. Chris never got into this game because of anything it could do for him, rather what he felt about the game, but those feelings have not been felt so much as they are now. "I love the game of football." Chris said. "I love everything about it. You don't realize it until you lose it, but I am missing everything about it and wishing I was out there."
Wishes Chris had now are those same he had during the years he couldn't play. You and I can only sit and try to grasp what it's like to be considered one of the very best in the country, only to have to watch the game, instead of playing it the way everyone had anticipated.
Other players taking snaps, other tight ends catching balls, just staying sane would be considered an accomplishment in and of itself. "It's frustrating." Septak stated. "You learn to deal with it a little better and I talked to coach Brown about it a little bit, just trying to stay positive."
"It's easy when you are not out there for your mind to start wandering, so you just have to stick with it, hoping it ends well and now it is."
After 4 years of not seeing a football field, I know I was particularly curious about Chris's confidence level. I mean, all that time, all that inactivity and a depth chart with talent, albeit not overly experienced. You ask if Chris thinks he can start and whatever doubts you had about his confidence level are quickly brushed aside as he grins, tilts his head back and states, "Oh yeah."
Don't misplace that to think it's arrogance. If Chris had any of that, it was lost probably two years into his physical ordeal. What he has is respect for what it took to get him to a place like Nebraska, but, for the other tight ends at NU as well. "To come to Nebraska, everyone of us is a great tight end." Chris said. "There's 5 of us working with the 1s and 2s and all 5 of us are really talented in our own way and I am just hoping to see where I fit."
Not to badger on a point you will hear plenty about as this year develops, but the fact that he can realistically see himself fitting anywhere, it's a great change for him. And, Chris might finally be able to put to rest the questions he gets in his hometown, people wondering if he's still on the team. "You just tell them that you have been through some tough times, but you will be back this year." Chris said. "It gets old, but you take it all in stride."
As the conversation with Chris wore on, it was obvious just how thankful he was to be back to a place he loved so much, to actually see and feel the field he was supposed to be on some three years ago. Actually, I'll retract that. It was obvious from the outset of the interview, that whether injuries caused this appreciation level to be at the point it is now, it was certainly evident that you would have needed a bat to wipe the smile from his face.
Whether it was an appreciation brought on by the humbling adventure through one injury after another or not, that's a matter of history. What matters most to Septak is now.
With the loss of Aaron Golliday, Kyle Ringenberg, Will Dabbert and Jon Bowling, if not for one player, this position would be Sahara Desert-like wide-open. That one player though, even Chris jokingly admits just how formidable a force he is. "He's just a freak.. He really is."
"I don't have the speed he has. When I came in, I maybe had half the speed he has now. Matt is going to be a hell of a tight end. I think he could be one of the best tight ends in the country."
Ok, maybe that's too humble. Then again, maybe not. You see, Chris even at the height of his press during his senior days in high school, he wasn't arrogant to say the least. After his trials and tribulations through one physical adversity after another, whatever there might have been has been tempered even more. What Chris is now is realistic to how good he is, but though he'll give Matt his credit for speed, Chris is pretty confident in what he brings to the table as well. "I know if I can block real well and catch some short passes, I can get on the field."
It's more than a little ironic this situation that Chris is in. Considered to be one if not the best at his position coming out of high school, today, some people ask if he's even on the team. From touted to nearly forgotten, Septak hasn't enjoyed the journey, but he's enjoying the thought of that particular phase coming to an end.
Like I said before, Chris's appreciation for where he is at, after all the injury problems he has had, it was evident, even pervasive. He's just about as happy as he can be. Appreciative he still has a shot. Thankful he's still healthy enough to play and more than a little gracious in his credit to all those that helped him through this process.
I doubt that come game day you will see someone that is happier to be out there, running around, in uniform, knowing that this time, he's actually going to play. "Coming out of high school, you want to be the next superstar." Chris said. "Now, it's just, ‘I want to play'.
"I don't care if I am 4th string or 5th string, I just want to play. To me, playing the game is something I have always loved and I didn't realize it until the injuries."
"Anyway I am on the field, I just want to be out there playing."
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619