Chris Jeske first noticed the pain in his back when he tried to sit in a rigid-backed chair during summer classes at Northwestern before his freshman year.
The highly touted, rock-solid linebacker from Yorkville, Ill., had never missed a game at Joliet Catholic Academy, much less a practice. He stubbornly attributed this new pain to the intense preseason workouts with the Wildcats.
Unfortunately, Jeske (WCAS09) was wrong. The bulging disc encasing nerve roots in his back required surgery and a year and a half of rehab. It was the first of three serious setbacks — he's also blown out both knees — in his injury-plagued Wildcat career.
"It's the uneventful but eventful story of my college tenure," said Jeske, who has played in just four games coming into 2009. "It's been a long road."
Only once, when doctors suggested he might need a second back surgery during sophomore year, did he even consider giving up the game.
Four years and four surgeries after coming to Northwestern, Jeske hopes he'll finally get a chance to make an impact with the Wildcats' defense. Healthy again, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Jeske is in the mix for the starting job at middle linebacker.
"I just want a healthy chance," he said.
Jeske credits his teammates and Wildcat coach Pat Fitzgerald (SESP97) with supporting him throughout his ordeal. "I know if I would have gone to another program, they would have run me out pretty quickly, seeing the situations I've had," he said.
Jeske has capitalized on his opportunities off the field. He graduated in June with a degree in political science and plans to study public policy and administration in the Graduate School.
But for now he's focused on making the most of his opportunity. Jeske has not yet reached the end of his road.
"I saw a vision with Coach Randy Walker — and it extends with Coach Fitz — of taking this program to the top," Jeske said. "And I've always wanted to be one of the building blocks of that foundation. I haven't really achieved those goals yet, but hopefully this season I'll be out there."