DENVER (CBS4) – A week ago, Broncos defense tackle Marvin Austin walked onto the football field, placed his hand to the turf and thought: “I love football again.”
It wasn’t always that way for the four-year pro.
Severe back injuries caused by congenital issues and years of wear on his body nearly ended his short career. After the New York Giants selected him in the second round in 2011, Austin missed his rookie season because of a torn pectoral muscle. He rebounded in 2012 and played eight games before back pain sidelined him again.
But during a walkthrough in his second season, he felt tingling in his leg.
“I was terrified,” he told CBS4 on Monday. “I thought, ‘Do I have some crazy disease?’ ”
Team trainers told him he couldn’t play. The next day when he woke up, Austin recalls, he could barely lift his leg.
“I was never right for two years,” he said. “I tried to fight it.”
That fight for Austin initially meant no surgery. He worked on his core and hoped he could battle through the injury. He couldn’t, so the Giants released him before the start of the 2013 season. He spent a few weeks with the Miami Dolphins and the Dallas Cowboys, playing just three games, before deciding he couldn’t continue.
“It came to a point where I couldn’t walk,” he said. “I was pretty much in a bent-over position.”
The low point occurred last season with the Cowboys just before a game against Minnesota. During warmups, he told his coach he couldn’t play. The thought of chasing down Vikings bruising running back Adrian Peterson terrified him.
And Austin worried playing would paralyze him.
“It was that serious of a deal,” he said.
He came off the field. Immediate X-rays and MRIs confirmed he needed surgery.
“I just cried my eyes out,” he said.
Players in the Cowboys locker room afterward asked: “Are you all right?”
“No, I’m not all right,” he told them, “because I’m thinking, ‘I’m never going to play football again.’ ”
After three seasons with three teams, Austin played in only 11 games and made just 10 tackles. He had zero sacks. It wasn’t a resume worthy of a second-round pick.
During surgery, doctors removed a piece from a spinal disc.
“They didn’t understand how I was still walking, let alone running and playing defensive tackle as a professional,” Austin said.
Intense therapy followed in the months after surgery. He had to drive only certain cars — nothing that seated him too low or two high. He had to be cognizant of how he turned his body. He even had to take laxatives, he admitted, because straining too hard while using the bathroom could pester his recovery.
It’s the recovery, he wants people to know, that requires the hard work.
“Everybody talks about talent this, talent that,” he said. “But nobody ever saw all the hard work I put into it. Nobody ever talks about that. They think it’s all God-given ability. I work extremely hard to get to this level as a professional. It was tough for me.”
Near the end of rehab, his agent, Peter Schaffer, fielded several calls about Austin.
He told his Schaffer, however: “I said, ‘Peter, to be honest with you, I don’t really care about football right now. I want to be healthy. I want to feel good. I want to have a better quality of life.’ ”
But the Broncos’ interest piqued his. He met with front-office personnel, including team executive John Elway.
“I know the type of organization they have here. I told Peter, ‘I would really like to join that team because I know they have a chance to do some great things. I think I could bring value to the defense as far as athleticism at the d-tackle position.’ ”
Austin signed a one-year, $570,000 contract, one possibly lost among the high-profile offseason defensive additions that included cornerback Aqib Talib, end DeMarcus Ware and safety T.J. Ward.
He recorded one tackle and a sack in Thursday’s preseason game against Seattle.
More importantly, the pain has vanished.
“Now I can move around freely. I don’t have to wake up every day with my back hurting,” he said.
Now it’s fun to rough some people up.
“It’s like back when I was a kid,” he said. “I feel great.”
– Written by Tim Skillern for CBSDenver.com
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