Weeks after being stabbed, UMD athlete is easing back into football
Austin Sikorski woke up at St. Luke's hospital last month and the first thing he saw were about 20 of his Minnesota Duluth football teammates. Sikorski, a star running back, has learned the value of being part of a team during his five-year caree...
Austin Sikorski woke up at St. Luke’s hospital last month and the first thing he saw were about 20 of his Minnesota Duluth football teammates.
Sikorski, a star running back, has learned the value of being part of a team during his five-year career with the Bulldogs, most recently the hard way after being stabbed in the lower-right abdomen after an altercation in downtown Duluth on Aug. 2.
Sikorski has recovered and is expected to play for the first time this season at 1:05 p.m. Saturday as the Bulldogs take on Augustana in their Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference road opener in Sioux Falls, S.D. He missed last week’s season opener, a 20-13 victory over Concordia-St. Paul, while still recovering from the injury. He has been practicing with the team since Aug. 29.
“It was hard to watch last week’s game,” Sikorski said. “I’ve got all these buddies I’ve been around with, some of them for the past five years, so you want to be out there. But it could have been a lot worse, that’s for sure, so I’m thankful it was only the one game.”
UMD plans on easing Sikorski, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound senior, back into action. It’s not a typical football injury so there is a bit of unknown attached to dealing with it. How will his body hold up when he gets hit in that area, and for an entire game?
Normally teams go easy on the hitting in practice but Sikorski got a test run Monday when the Bulldogs put him through more strenuous live drills.
“It felt good,” Sikorski said. “A little sore, but that’s to be expected. It’s been a while. We’re going to take it easy and kind of test out the waters and figure things out.”
Sikorski, of Plover, Wis., led the Bulldogs with 1,260 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns last season. The 1,260 yards were the fifth-highest single-season output in program history. He entered this season ranking ninth on UMD’s all-time rushing chart with 2,736 yards.
About the same time news of the stabbing broke, Sikorski was announced as NSIC North Division preseason offensive player of the year.
“Austin gives not only his playmaking ability on the field, but also his leadership and character in the huddle,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said. “We’re going to play him as much as he can handle, but honestly, we don’t know exactly how much that is yet. We’re playing it by ear.”
Junior Logan Lauters led the Bulldogs with 14 carries for 165 yards against Concordia. Lauters is a proven backfield commodity, having rushed for 747 yards and 12 TDs last year, but the run-heavy Bulldogs like two strong backs they can pound the opposition with, in addition to sophomore quarterback Drew Bauer.
Beau Bofferding, who Wiese said is as fast as any Bulldog, will continue in his role as a hybrid wide receiver/running back.
Wiese likes to refer to Sikorski and Lauters as 1A and 1B, respectively, but for the meantime those roles are reversed.
“They’re two zone-style running backs,” Wiese said. “Both of them can run away from you if they get a crease, and they have the ability to break tackles and make a move in the hole, where Beau is more of a guy who just looks to run away from you.
“This is Austin’s fifth year in the offense, so he is well-rehearsed on the ins and outs of our scheme. We’re definitely glad to have him back.”
The abdominal wound isn’t the first injury Sikorski has had to deal with.
His UMD career began with a redshirt season during the Bulldogs’ second national championship run in 2010. Sikorski broke his foot in high school and later broke the same foot in preseason drills with UMD and didn’t practice the rest of the season.
“I definitely know the rehab process,” he said. “I know everyone in the training room well. They’ve been great helping me in any way to get back on the field.”
Sikorski’s freshman season in 2011 didn’t go much better, though it started promisingly. He had a 75-yard TD run, the longest play from scrimmage of any player that season, and was the Bulldogs’ leading ground-gainer before suffering a season-ending knee injury halfway through.
Sikorski has only missed one game the past two seasons, and he hopes the same holds true this fall.
“Knock on wood,” he said. “Running back is a tough position. It’s hard to make it through an entire season.”
Sikorski and Co. already have dealt with a year’s worth of adversity this season, and it’s only one week in.
Five players were suspended from last week’s game after a Labor Day weekend party. Two players lost their captaincy.
UMD hopes a return to full strength, and less distraction, helps the team moving forward. The addition of Sikorski should help.
Despite the setbacks, the team drew closer together, having learned some life lessons the hard way.
“The support I’ve received from everybody at UMD has meant a lot. They’ve been awesome,” Sikorski said. “Whenever I woke up (at the hospital), there were guys there. The biggest thing was helping me keep a positive mindset. I can’t thank them enough. I certainly came to the right place - no regrets there.”