You’re not supposed to be scoring touchdowns less than a year after serious knee and hamstring injury, but don’t tell that to UMD’s standout running back Austin Sikorski. The redshirt sophomore, environmental sustainability major from Plover, Wisc., is nothing short of a pure inspiration for those trying to persevere through athletic injury.
After the Bulldogs’ 2008 championship, all Sikorski was sure of was that it was going to be an honor to play football at UMD. Unfortunately, coming into camp as a freshman, he had broken his foot and actually didn’t practice for the entire year.
Going into his second season, having broken his foot twice and after three surgeries, Sikorski had some doubts.
“As I practiced for the first time my second year, part of me doubted that my foot would ever be in the condition to play again,” he said.
However, as fall camp went by and the first game rolled around, he had no doubt he was ready. What followed would be a very successful first five games where Sikorski emerged as the tough and shifty back the team could rely on.
It was in the sixth game, homecoming against Northern State, where injury struck again. During the second drive of the game, while running towards the end zone, a Northern State defender went to tackle Sikorski.
“I took a helmet to the knee, as soon as it happened, I knew it was the end of my season,” he said.
The play did in fact knock Sikorski out for the remainder of the year, as he had to deal with the injury to his knee, PCL and LCL, and hamstring.
Being used to watching from the sidelines made the process no easier.
“The first couple weeks were hard,” Sikorski said, “The doctors just kept saying it needs more time and I started to have my doubts once again.”
With the help of teammates Nate Zuk and Joe Akey, who both had also suffered multiple knee injuries over the course of their careers, Sikorski found a way to stay positive and focused.
“Zuk was the type of guy that would get under your skin to make you work harder,” Sikorski said. “Joe is more of the typical motivator, but I can’t thank those guys enough.”
Through the combination of teammate encouragement and months of rehab, Sikorski entered his third season as a Bulldog with the knee giving him very little problems. In fact, he now labels his knee as “strong as ever”. Anyone who has taken the time to watch the running back through the first five games of the Bulldogs’ young season, would have to say it looks that way as well.
Usually rotating between two or three runners throughout the game, Sikorski has been splitting the majority of the reps with standout redshirt freshman Logan Lauters. Through healthy competition and cohesiveness the two backs have developed a solid relationship.
“Logan and I have a lot of respect for each other,” Sikorski said. “We have similar abilities and he’s a talented runner. As the season progresses our relationship has as well.”
The same goes for the rest of the running back core.
“Our entire running back core is pretty close and we like to joke around with each other during practice,” he said.
Leading the team in both rushing yards and touchdowns, Sikorski has put the effects of hard work, dedication and persistence on display for all UMD fans to see. When asked about the future goals for him and the team moving forward, Sikorski put it very shortly, “Win conference, win the natty, and stay healthy.”
Coming from a player with such a complicated and tested young career, the simplicity of that statement couldn’t sound much sweeter.
BY CALAHAN SKOGMAN firstname.lastname@example.org