Kivon Cartwright will admit that 2014 was one of the hardest years of his life.
The redshirt senior tight end from Pueblo, Colorado was expecting his final season at Colorado State to be a memorable one, but the injury bug had a different idea. He sat out all of spring practice in 2014 with a foot injury that required surgery, then returned for fall camp hoping to put it behind him. During that time, Cartwright was named to the preseason All-Mountain West team while also being named to the Mackey Award Watch List as one of the nation’s premier tight ends.
He played in the season opener against the University of Colorado, where he caught one pass for 26 yards before the injury flared back up. As a precaution, Cartwright sat out the next three games and after CSU’s win over Tulsa on Oct. 4, it was announced that Cartwright would miss the entire season after needing another surgery on the injured foot.
His senior season, and possibly his college football career were over.
“The past year has definitely been a learning experience for me, as more than just a football player,” Cartwright said earlier this fall. “I’ve grown in a number of ways.”
What made sitting out even harder was not being able to be on the field to experience the success that CSU had in winning 10 games and making a second-consecutive bowl game. Cartwright badly wanted to be on the field to help his team, but fellow tight end Steven Walker credits him with being a big piece of Walker’s individual success last season, as well as the team’s success as a whole.
“He wasn’t one of those guys who gets hurt and then you never see him again,” Walker said. “Kivon was there at every practice and was just as excited if I scored a touchdown as if he had. He was always amped up for the group and for the team, and he’s the ultimate team player. We’re excited to have him back and he’s getting himself healthy so he can get back out there and get after it.”
Teammates say there was never any doubt Cartwright would return, as long as he was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. That news finally came in early February, when an emotional Cartwright received the medical hardship waiver from the NCAA to be eligible for his sixth season.
“It’s definitely tested my patience,” Cartwright said of the last year and a half dealing with the injury. “I’ve been chomping at the bit to play for so long, and through this year I really got time to work on myself as a person and step back and really trust in my faith because that’s really the only thing I had. But it’s given me a chance to step back and think, ‘Okay, it’s going to work out.’ It also gave me the chance to learn different perspectives, to learn from the coaching side and studying in the film room so I can apply that on the field.”
Through the majority of this year’s fall camp, Cartwright was limited to individual drills with the team, but was completely held out of contact drills, including 1-on-1 drills and 7-on-7 skeleton work. On Monday, Cartwright was listed as the No. 1 tight end on CSU’s Week 1 depth chart, along with being named a team captain alongside seniors Kevin Pierre-Louis, Sam Carlson and junior Eric Williams. First-year head coach Mike Bobo announced for the first time that Cartwright would play against Savannah State, and would finally be able to take off the red no-contact jersey he sported for the last two-plus weeks.
“(When they told me), my initial reaction was just to stay humble because I’ve heard this before because last year I played the first week also,” Cartwright said. “After it really set in and I was sitting in my room I was like, ‘Wow, I’m really healthy.’ And then I was just in tears.”
Now that he’s available to play, Cartwright will join an already loaded tight end group that features Walker, a 2014 All-Mountain West selection, as well as returning starter Nolan Peralta and Vanderbilt transfer Mitch Parsons. CSU has also moved linebacker Danny Nwosu to the tight end spot, where he has impressed head coach Mike Bobo in the past week of practice.
CSU’s tight end depth will likely be a huge help to redshirt sophomore Nick Stevens, who was named the starter August 17.
“It makes me really confident in our tight ends group, because we have guys behind him that can make plays, too,” Stevens said. “But Kivon specifically is a big body, and he’s a smart guy. He’s a competitor so I know if I put the ball up to him, he’s going to come down with it and make a play.”
Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.