On Tuesday, everything was right for Deonte Clyburn.
Colorado State’s first practice of the spring marked the first time Clyburn stepped on the football field in over a year. It was only fitting that the senior linebacker led the team into practice – breaking down the team with an intensity fitting for somebody returning from a long hiatus.
That hiatus officially began early last August when it was announced that Clyburn would miss the 2016 season due to blood clots. There were questions whether he would ever play again.
“I have been playing since I was five and I have never missed a season…until last year,” Clyburn said. “When it’s taken away from you out of the blue and they strip it from your it hands, it is hard to take in. It is hard to think about not ever playing again, but it gives you that much (more) appreciation.”
Two weeks ago, Clyburn got the word from his doctor that he was cleared to return to football. On Monday, coach Mike Bobo officially announced that Clyburn would return to the team.
“I am extremely excited for Deonte Clyburn,” Bobo said. “The thing about him is his faith and his determination throughout all of this has been remarkable and it’s been something a lot of our guys have drawn strength from.”
On Tuesday, he was back out on the field.
His first day back might not have been a perfect day and Clyburn made mistakes, but to him the important part is that he had the opportunity to make some mistakes on the football field again.
“I got a chance, that’s all I want,” Clyburn said. “I got a chance to be out there, I got a chance to run around. Today just really solidified the moment. It was really surreal. I got to run around a lot. I feel good. I feel lighter, I feel faster.”
When it was announced that Clyburn would miss the 2016 season, his teammates and the CSU coaching staff were quick to show their support for him. But it was clear early on that Clyburn was the one rallying behind them.
“He continued to work, he continued to be involved with this football team,” Bobo said. “He continued to be a leader. He was in every meeting, he was at every game. He knew what the game plan was. He was a part of this football team.”
“I don’t want to just go to school, I want to play football,” Clyburn said. “This was something that I was just blatantly removed from. Keeping myself involved as far as meetings go, still trying to work out a little bit (and) going on road trips, it just kept my mind level.”
As the season went on Clyburn was constantly called on by coaches and players alike for his continued leadership and intensity that he brought to the team everyday. Now Clyburn can bring those tools with him onto the field where he is already the unquestioned leader of the CSU defense heading into this season.
“I am excited for him because of how much it means to him and how much this team means to him,” defensive coordinator Marty English said. “Now he gets to put his pads on back on and go out there and be a communicator and a leader.”
Going into spring practice, Bobo said that Clyburn will not be limited in any capacity and that the linebacker is in the best shape he has been in since the coach got to CSU.
Clyburn’s return comes at a time when the Rams have to replace do-everything linebacker Kevin Davis. In 2015, his junior season, Clyburn finished fourth on the team in tackles despite only starting the last seven games of the season. His emergence in the later part of that season built high hopes for the 2016 season. Those hopes return heading into this year.
“It would have been great to have both (Davis and Clyburn) last year because of the maturity and communication and things like that,” English said. “Kevin was a good player. Deonte is a very good player and I think that is a role where Deonte is going to be able to step in there and kind of take back over some of the things that Kevin was doing and help move us forward.”
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5