|Isaac Kolstad helped lead Minnesota onto the field at Blakeslee Stadium|
How does one describe a five-hour lump in the throat that started from the moment you saw Isaac Kolstad in the parking lot adjacent to the football field?
Having not seen him since before that fateful night in May when he suffered severe head trauma in an assault that took place in downtown Mankato and although you've read the updates on his CaringBridge site, your frame of reference is skewed by the last time you saw him play football for Minnesota State. That would have been back last December when the Mavericks hosted St. Cloud State in the second round of the NCAA play-offs. Isaac had nine tackles in what would be the last game of his college football career.
Isaac starred at Mankato East High School and after heading to Fargo to play for North Dakota State, he returned to his hometown where he was a three-year starting linebacker for Minnesota State. He completed his Maverick career with 182 tackles while becoming a leader on a team that ascended to the top of the NCAA DII heap. The Mavericks rode an undefeated regular season and a #1-ranking into the postseason before falling to SCSU in that play-off game. He graduated last Christmas and began working for Fastenal here in town.
Given where he was initially after the incident (on life support and in a coma for three weeks), his recovery has been nothing short of unbelievable. "He wakes up every morning saying, 'I want to go home. But I know I have to get better," said Molly, his wife, who spoke at a pre-game press conference. "It's a miracle, that's all I can say," said Molly.
Isaac continues his rehabilitation at an in-patient facility in the Twin Cities and his speech therapy is a work in progress.
As the game neared, Isaac helped lead the team toward the field, walking onto the natural-grass turf as they always do on the northwest, scoreboard end of the stadium. The team surrounded him and one of the players (I think it was senior wide receiver Keyvan Rudd, who led the chant), began getting the team fired up. Since the team had engulfed him in the center of the group, we lost sight of Isaac. But one of our videographers had a camera mounted on the end of a monopod and in the video you can see Isaac chanting along with everyone else.
The crowd, our largest ever for an opening game, was loud. So loud you felt like you could reach out and touch it. It felt like a living thing. There was electricity that made the hair on your arms stand up and your heart was pounding so cartoonishly hard that you began to look for Jeff Chambers, the school's athletic trainer. Just in case.
Then the players did something they've never done. Led by Isaac, who was arm-in-arm with his teammates, the Mavericks went to the center of the field. They never do that. Not pre-game. This was something unplanned that just happened organically. The crowd continued its ear-busting drone and I took a quick glance at the St. Cloud State sideline. The Huskies, like everyone else in the stadium, were applauding. Again, impossibly, the emotion goes up another notch.
I had two thoughts at that point. Number one....there's no way we're going to lose this game. And number two....Isaac is with his brothers. He's home and it feels incredibly right.
The win was never in doubt, with the Mavericks rolling over SCSU 31-0. It ended when the players accepted the Travelling Training Kit as victors and headed straight to sideline where they presented it to their smiling brother.
I can't wait to see Isaac again.