The excitement was evident when spring football opened up and senior linebacker Deonte Clyburn stepped back onto a football field for the first time in over a year.
After all, Clyburn was never even sure he would play football again after missing the 2016 season due to blood clots. When he got a second chance before 2017 spring practice started it was only natural that Clyburn was going to hit the field with some enthusiasm.
“He has fire in his eyes,” senior cornerback Kevin Nutt Jr. said. “He has that every day. You can just see it because he really loves the game. He has a real passion for the game and he brings the energy every day.”
However, the return to the field did not start completely smoothly for Clyburn. Coach Mike Bobo said that Clyburn did not have a “very good” scrimmage on Saturday — the team’s first of the spring.
Clyburn was understandably rusty after more than a year away from football.
“It’s good for him to get back into the flow of practice and getting hit and practicing at a pace that he is not used to,” Bobo said. “(He is) learning how to take on blockers almost all over again. I have seen gradual improvement, but he had a little bit of setback on Saturday when things started going fast.”
On the field Clyburn has the energy to fly around and play football again, but he has needed some time for the game to come back to him.
Clyburn said that Tuesday’s practice was the first time he felt like himself in his pads again. For the first two weeks of spring practice it was a struggle to work himself back into the flow and speed of the game.
“(Tuesday) was my first day where I actually was coming downhill and hitting people,” Clyburn said. “I felt fast. I was reacting and my instincts were there today. It was my first day that I felt like myself a year-and-a-half ago.”
For Clyburn, feeling like himself means playing smarter than everybody else on the field. He prides himself on his on-field intelligence and the instinct to diagnose a play before it happens.
Those are the kinds of things that take awhile to return for a player. He may be in better shape than he has ever been while at CSU, but for now he is focused on getting the mental side of the game back.
“He is a talented kid, but he is not the most talented kid in this conference or on this team,” Bobo said. “He plays on his intelligence and his instincts and that’s what he is getting back right now.”
“Playing linebacker in general is a lot of mind and it’s a lot of instincts,” Clyburn said. “It’s a lot of knowing what you are doing out there so you can play a lot faster than you really are. If you are out there on the field and you don’t know what you are doing, then you are playing ten times slower than you really could be.”
On Saturday Clyburn was thinking too much and it slowed him down, but he has only spent two weeks back on the field after being gone for so long. It is going to take time and the coaches know that too.
On Tuesday he felt like he was starting to get some of his old game back, but he is not satisfied yet.
He still has his goals for the remainder of spring.
“I have to be able to play with my game-like savvy that I have,” Clyburn said. “If I can get that back by the end of spring ball I will be content.”
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_