Leave Everything To Chance

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"Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light."

Micah 7:8

Chance Talbert needed something extra to propel him through the laborious weightlifting sessions and excruciating conditioning exercises he had to endure if he wanted to reach his goal. The sheer magnitude of his will, irrepressible as it might be, would not suffice this time.

Team physicians gave Talbert a mid-September target for his return from early-April right ankle surgery, and in typical Talbert fashion he dismissed any suggestion that called for him to miss games. Talbert had every intention of playing defensive tackle against UAB the opening Saturday of the season, and the only way he could shave two weeks off the original prognosis was to work like never worked before. That task required inspiration of biblical proportions.

"I've been down a billion times in my life and had to climb back up," Talbert said, referencing the Old Testament scripture tattooed on his back. "The mental part was nothing to me because I've got great people on my side keeping me up, and the desire to get back on the field."

Those "great people" - head coach David Bailiff and strength and conditioning coach Jared Kaaiohelo - unconditionally pledged their support to Talbert because Talbert showcased a relentless commitment to rehab. Under normal circumstances Kaaiohelo is concerned about the psyche of a rehabbing athlete, but Talbert attacked the chore with such vigor Kaaiohelo was forced to shift his focus to keeping Talbert reined in and on a proper recovery schedule.

Because Talbert had a lower extremity injury, he dropped weight during the summer. Thanks in small part to an illness, Talbert opened camp at 247 pounds, roughly 30 pounds shy of his desired weight for the opener. Kaaiohelo carefully monitored Talbert as he first addressed recovering his range of motion in his ankle while attempting to add bulk. That was a delicate process, but one Talbert worked through while also charging into his conditioning reps.

When Kaaiohelo pushed, Talbert requested more. Hurdles were cleared and Talbert kept pursuing his goal. Small movements, balance, single-leg strength work, then both legs in concert proceeded exercises taxing lateral quickness both in the weight room and on the field. Kaaiohelo grew confident that Talbert would regain the weight, but he wanted to make sure that Talbert gained strength and cardiovascular power along with the girth. No problem.

"We were smart because we didn't rush it, but then again he's back ... ahead of schedule because of the work that he put in," Kaaiohelo said. "He believed in what we were doing - we spent a lot of time with him. But he was the one who put the work in. He was the one who would come ask us what he could do. He has a lot of energy, we just had to channel that in the right direction."

Kaaiohelo was sensitive to the fact that Talbert was entering his senior season. If Bailiff had any doubts as to how much participating in the opener meant to Talbert, they were dismissed as Talbert worked feverishly on the sideline during camp while constantly seeking reassessments. When Talbert said he would play against the Blazers, he obviously meant it.
"He's got Brian Raines. He's willed himself healthy," Bailiff said of the former Rice linebacker who twice returned from career-ending injuries. "It's amazing when a young man is that dedicated to get back what can happen. He made it very clear to the doctors, the trainers, the coaches that his goal was the first game, and you were either with him or against him. He didn't want to hear any of this third game stuff, and he's really dedicated himself to the cause. I am really proud of him. He has actually been an inspiration to a lot of people on this football team."
Talbert eclipsed the 270-pound plateau last week, was cleared for full participation over the weekend, and practiced against full contact for the first time on Monday. He strung together a half-dozen reps without a break and has Bailiff aiming for 20-30 snaps out of his honorable mention all-conference lineman. If Talbert can contribute against UAB, it would be a boon to a line inexperienced at tackle and rebounding from the unexpected loss of end Arnaud Gascon-Nadon. Plus, any help against UAB quarterback Joe Webb would be appreciated.

Webb, it seems, provided Talbert initial motivation. The prophet Micah helped him get over the hump.

"As soon as we left the Texas Bowl I was thinking about Joe Webb. That's all I thought about," Talbert said. "All I think about is different pass rush moves, different ways to tackle Joe Webb. I just want it. It's fun to me.

"For so long I haven't been a football player, and now I'm a football player again and it's the best feeling I can have. I get to be myself."

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Great story on Chance. He's got a big heart and I'm glad to see he will get to participate as he hoped.

MK, I saw on the depth chart that JT Shepherd is the backup Punt Returner. I'm just kind of curious how a quarterback got into that line of work and especially quarterback that isn't out of the mix for the starting job. I've been told other QBs have done it in the past, but I just figured one of our other RBs or WRs could take the job. Heck, I'm a little antsy about Sendejo taking the main duties on would be a huge loss if he gets knocked out of a game because of something happened on a return.

d1owls4life: I'm with you on Sendejo. The staff tinkered with Gaddis, Randolph and Maginot returning punts but settled on Sendejo. All I can do is keep my fingers crossed and hope he stays healthy. As for Shep, Bailiff mentioned in passing one day his desire to get Shep on the field in multiple roles as to take advantage of his elusiveness. They trust him, and his returning punts is symbolic of that trust. - MK

I'll echo that. Great story. Chance has overcome a lot of obstacles to get where he is now. How great is it that he got that second chance before the 2007 season? A lot of programs probably would have just dropped him, but the Rice players and coaches gave him that chance and he's more than redeemed himself.

He really started to wreak havoc down the stretch last season with his height, long arms and athleticism. Now that he actually has a season of playing DT under his belt, I expect him to cause even more damage.

Regarding punt returners, I too harbor some concern over putting key players back there, but you have to like Bailiff & Co's approach to it. The programs with the best special teams (i.e. Florida, Alabama, VT) aren't afraid to play starters and I like seeing that attitude here.

Furthermore I'm not so sure that the opposing coverage team shouldn't be the ones concerned with Sendejo back there. With his new 225lb frame, he'll be a big, bruising yet nimble fullback looking to knock guys out after he makes the catch.

I also like the attitude of trying to get JT on the field in multiple roles. A la the Eagles new designs with MV-7.

I hope Chance isn't rushing things to get ready for the opener only to have a setback. Raine's Black Knight routine was amazing but we don't want to have to rely on key players having miraculous healing powers every year.

I'll take the opposite tack on punt returning. It's such a game changing role (both good and bad) that having the best personnel in that role is vital. I don't think the position is any more injury prone than any other.

Great piece, MK. Thanks. Talbert's maturation over his Rice career has been great to follow.

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