This is an upload of a print article released in the September edition of the University Journal, released on Sept. 31.
“I knew something was wrong,” SUU quarterback Chris Helbig said. “I couldn’t feel my arm because it was burning… [the trainers] ran their hand through my shoulder pad and they could totally feel the bump.”
The then-sophomore had been slammed into the turf by a University of Northern Arizona linebacker moments earlier. Helbig’s shoulder dug into the turf, and the weight of the linebacker drove it into the ground.
As soon as the trainers felt the bump, they knew Helbig had broken his collarbone. His season was over.
“I think he wanted to play the next week even though his bone was all jacked up,” SUU Head coach Demario Warren said. “He’s a competitor. He wants to be out there with his teammates. He works too hard to not be disappointed when something like that happens.”
Helbig’s path, as it were, was full of bumps. He set records in Colorado for passing yards during his senior year
of high school. But with no formal offers, he decided to walk-on at Pac-12 member the University of Colorado Boulder.
Much to Helbig’s surprise, on the first day of practice he was handed a black practice jersey of the defense and a safety’s number.
There was no way Helbig was playing safety. He wanted to compete for the starting quarterback spot, so he transferred to Butler Community College in Kansas. He threw for 1,661 yards and 16 touchdowns in his lone season there. Coach Warren and Offensive coordinator Justin Walterscheid took notice.
“[Helbig] has the ability to do everything we want offensively,” Walterscheid said. “He provides a run threat, he provides the ability to throw the ball down the eld and he’s great at identifying his read keys.”
The injury came in just his fourth game. He went off the field, and the three quarterbacks SUU trotted out in his place couldn’t match his production. Soon, the dominos fell and SUU limped to 1-10 record, just one season removed from winning the Big Sky Conference Championship.
He was devastated when he got the news. Helbig sat on the bench, arm in a sling while Coach Warren consoled his quarterback.
But from that moment forward, Helbig didn’t fret.
Helbig realized that he likely wouldn’t lose a precious year of eligibility because the injury happened so early in the season. Helbig focused on his leadership and spent the season looking through the eyes of the coaches.
Helbig learned more about the game in his season on the sidelines, honing in on the game’s mental challenges. He battled through physical therapy to stabilize and strengthen his collarbone and was running drills by the time Spring Ball came around.
However, that doesn’t mean the trauma is over.
“I think it’s something that took a bigger toll on me than I was expecting,” Helbig said. “Just subconsciously… I just kind of have to trust [the shoulder]. I have a good o-line. I have good receivers. I just have to trust in them.”
Last season may have been the longest in SUU history. e losses weighed on everybody from the coaches
to the players to the fans. Coach Warren spins each of last season’s struggles into positives and chances for improvement, but struggles to find the right angle when discussing Helbig’s injury.
“I just want him to have success early in the game,” Coach Warren said. “Just so he can get it rolling… I know he has it in him. We’re just excited to have him back.”
Even with his injury behind him, Helbig’s endurance continues to be tested after a difficult start to the season. But he refuses to give in.
“Even these last couple of weeks I haven’t had the performances that I wanted,” Helbig said, reaching for his shoulder as he spoke. “But [the team] still has my back and they still know that when this rust is off , we’re going to do great things.”
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics