Welcome the second edition of the “Red and Purple” Interview. In this edition we’ll be talking with stand out Linfield defensive end, Kelley Bertrand. We’ll talk to Kelley about his 2004 Senior season where he overcame a torn ACL to make one of the biggest plays in Linfield history. Before the injury, Kelley was poised to have an All-American season and he was in my opinion the best complete defense end that I’ve seen at Linfield in my 14 years associated with the program. Enough with the preamble, let’s start the interview.
(Wildcat11) You were a big part of the 2002 and 2003 teams that came up just short in the playoffs vs. Saint John’s in the west region finals. What was the mindset of you and your teammate’s going into 2004? Did the team have a different approach going into 2004?
(Kelley Bertrand) I think our team’s mindset was that we were tired of being close. We were tired of watching the Stagg Bowl on T.V. and not actually being there. I think our team came to the breaking point where we knew that one way or another we were going to make it to Salem, Va. I think the one thing that was different during the 2004 season was that we were not afraid to tell people and talk about it amongst ourselves that we belonged in Salem and that's where we planned on ending our season.
(WC11) So the season opener vs. Western Oregon goes down. The Catdome is newly remodeled with the field turf, new scoreboard; a highlight touted Wildcat team, and a major buzz in the DIII community. However, right out of the gate you injure your right knee and find out you tore your ACL. Can you recall what happened on the play and did you know right away that it was a serious injury?
(KB) I remember a WOU lineman being the dirty b#&^%*^ard and he chopped me from behind. I instantly knew that I tore my ACL. It was one of the hardest things to comprehend at first because I knew the potential that our team had and I had trained harder than ever to be apart of that. Also I had some personal expectations of myself that I knew were probably not going to be accomplished which also was a hard pill to swallow. When football is your life for so long it’s hard to come to terms that you may not get to finish your career with the team you trained with for so long.
(WC11) At that point did you think your career was over or did you push the doctor right away to release you so you could get back and play?
(KB) After I had heard that there were something like one in every one-hundred people that can play with a torn ACL I told myself that I was going to be that one person no matter what it took. I found a doctor (in Portland that I would highly recommend) that fitted me for a special brace and started on a training regimen to regain the strength in my leg and knee that I lost due to the tear. Even if I couldn't find a doctor that was going to clear me I was going to make it back out on the field.
(WC11) I find it pretty miraculous that you even attempted to continue. So for the next 6 weeks you just worked away to get back on the field. Can you give us some insight on what you did to get ready, who you worked with, and what was in your mind during this attempt at rehab?
(KB) I pretty much trained by myself, lifting weights, swimming, eventually running and then finally putting the pads back on. The best and quickest rehab for me was watching the games on the sideline and not being able to contribute to the games. There was always the threat that if I do come back to play then I could damage my knee worse so I also think that was a big factor in pushing myself to become stronger so that wouldn't happen.
(WC11) You come back on October 23th at the away game with UPS. You only took a few snaps and I thought you looked a little unsure about the knee.
(KB) The first game back was definitely a test to see how the knee would handle. I was a little timid and hesitant which looking back was probably not a good thing but everything ended up o.k. I do remember one play where my knee locked up and twisted just like when I tore my ACL originally and thought that I was done for good.
(WC11) Wow that had to be scary. But the next week at home vs. Menlo you wind up racking up 2 sacks on the day without having one of your ACL’s. You looked like a different player from just the week prior. Were you even able to wrap your head around how incredible that was? Did the week between the UPS and Menlo game really make that big of difference?
(KB) For the game against Menlo I had to get myself mentally ready and not go into the game timid. I think that’s what the big difference was from the UPS game to the Menlo game. I went out and played against Menlo as if I had both ACL's. When I got the two sacks against Menlo I felt like a freshman again playing for the first time and recording my first sacks. It was a great feeling all around.
(WC11) I’d like to turn our attention back to the team for a moment. Early in the 2004 season the defense was really having their issues. In the four games before UPS, Linfield was giving up 28 points a game. Besides you coming back into the fold, what changed for the Wildcat defense where you would only give up 14 points a game for the rest of the season?
(KB) I think towards the middle of the season was when Eric Hillison was back at 100%. It was hard for him coming off ACL surgery and then moving to a new position it took some time to get in the groove of things. When Eric and myself were in full force I believe that really helped turn things around.
(WC11) Let’s jump ahead….Linfield wraps up the season at 9-0 for the 3rd straight year and then proceed to roll over UW-Lacrosse in the 2nd round and Occidental in the West Region Finals. Then the game versus Rowan everything goes right and Linfield crushes the Profs 52-0.
(KB) That was an incredible run through the playoffs.
(WC11) However, it doesn’t go too great for you as you dislocated your right shoulder late in the Rowan game. Tell us how it happened if at any time if you thought you were done….again? Did you go against any medical advice at this point?
(KB) I remember it was a quick three step drop and I got cut by one of the Rowan lineman. I went to brace myself with my arm and my shoulder just popped out of its socket. I had played my entire sophomore season with a torn rotator so I wasn't going to let a dislocated shoulder hold me out of the National Championship Game. Nothing a little pain killers and adrenaline can't cure.
(WC11) Now let’s get into the Stagg Bowl. You make it to the big stage. Linfield and Mary Hardin-Baylor’s defenses were pretty much an after thought at that point because of the success of both team’s offenses. Did you have any notion the game would wind up being a defense struggle late in the ladder stages of the game?
(KB) They (both defenses) were pretty much an after thought to the general public and the media but everyone on both teams knew that whatever defense could come up big was going to be the team that won that game. Overall we felt we matched up better defensively against their offensive and felt that our offense was going to be able to put up points like always.
(WC11) Last drive of the game and UMHB is within striking distance. 4th and 4 from the Linfield 19 yard line. Linfield brings pressure and you just steamroll UMHB’s right guard, Kody Zuniga to sack UMHB quarterback Josh Welch with fellow defensive end, Brandon Tom, to seal the victory and the national title for Linfield. Do you remember what the play call was from Coach Smith and can you remember what was going on in your mind before the play?
(KB) Of course in the classic Coach Smith fashion I believe that last play was an all out blitz. I think at that point in the huddle and as I walked up to the line before the final snap my mind was the clearest and most focused it has ever been on the football field. I think there could have been gun shots in the stands and planes dropping bombs overhead but I would not have lost focus on that play. I was also envisioning the fat National Championship ring that was soon to be on my finger.
(WC11) Flat out…how in the hell did you do it? A torn ACL and separated shoulder and you wind updelivering the biggest sack in Linfield history. There has to be a movie somewhere in there right?
(KB) It is still hard for me to believe that I was able to play my senior season with a torn ACL and contribute to the team. People ask me often if I am mad that I wasn't able to play at 100% my senior year and I can honestly say that I don't look at it that way. I was forced to play with the cards that I was dealt. Now as far as the movie goes that would be sweet, maybe itcould allow me to afford that new GT500 Mustang I have been dreaming about.
(WC11) Kelley, I would be first in line to see the movie.