Coach Sonny Dykes can relate to the pain junior linebacker Nick Forbes has felt all season while dealing with a nagging back injury.
“Guys respond differently to those type of injuries. A back injury is pretty unique,” Dykes said. “The pain that people feel and what they’re comfortable working through is different for everybody.
“I had a back injury and it used to kill me. It was painful to do anything. It’s been hard for Nick. I know he really wants to play. He’s frustrated.”
I spoke Tuesday morning with Forbes, who was projected to be one of the Bears’ top defensive players this season. Instead, he has been on the field for just a handful of plays in two early-season games.
Dykes said he is eager for Forbes to be healthy.
“We’re hopeful we’re going to have him back next year,” Dykes said. “He’s a good kid, a good player, he’s been very productive in the past. We want him to get well. That’s the important thing.”
Here’s my interview with Forbes:
How are you feeling right now?
“This whole time there’s been ups and downs. I’m feeling good right now.”
Explain the exact nature of your injury:
“It is a bulging disk which is putting pressure on a nerve, which is sending pain signals down my right leg. Doctors are still trying to discover what is causing it. The rehab and all the things I’m doing, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I feel it, sometimes I don’t.”
How frustrating has the season been for you?
“I’ve gone through the highest highs and the lowest lows. Coming off the lows, I’ll have a day where I’ll wake up and feel like nothing every happen. Then I skyrocket and feel great. Then it comes back a couple days later.
“It’s been a tremendous growth experience for me. They say there’s only a few moments in life where you test your true character. Over these past couple months I feel like I’ve dealt with a few of those moments. So I’m grateful for it.”
Is the uncertainty from day to day one of the biggest challenges?
“At points I feel like I’m losing my mind. I’ll be having one of the worst days ever and I have this sense of it’s all going to be all right, and I’m still smiling.”
When did this first become an issue?
“It started in the spring. There was no play, no weight training (that caused it). Toward the end of winter workouts and the start of spring ball, I started to feel a tightness in my glutes. I’m still running, but I’m getting this tightness. It slowly went from tightness to a little bit of discomfort and then stiffness and then a little bit of pain.”
How weird is it to have a back problem but feel the pain in your leg?
“They’re telling me it’s very common to feel this disassociation to where I’m feeling it. But it’s one of the frustrating components of it. I’m reading blue and seeing red. That’s been the most difficult part, not being able to understand it.”
What things have you tried to get healthy?
“I’ve seen two doctors. They say sometimes these things go away. I got one (pain) injection in fall camp. It did (help) a little bit. But after you get an injection you have to sit out and let it do its magic. With the time crunch, it was like I don’t want to get another one and have to sit out more. As competitive as I am, I was counting down the seconds.”
Have doctors considered surgery?
“It came up, but the doctors didn’t recommend it, being so young. The bulging disc wasn’t severe enough to jump to surgery.”
When did you realize you wouldn’t be able to play this season?
“Weeks went by and when I stopped getting reps with the 2s . . . then you start to doubt. People are telling you, `This is your back. Should you go back? Is this better for the rest of your life?’
“So you wonder am I done? Is this going to get better?”
You said you plan to rest early in December, then see another doctor for an opinion. Is the decision about whether you will play next year even made yet?
“I hate to say this, unfortunately I’m not to the point where I can just show up on Saturday. Mentally I’m there. Physically, my feet are catching up to my center of gravity. I know I physically need to improve.
“In my mind I’m playing, the decision’s made. The thing that I don’t know is when or if or how I’ll stop trying to play. I want to stop when I’ve reached my full potential as a linebacker. I haven’t gotten there yet. There’s so much more improvement I can make on the field.”
But I presume you don’t want to go through another season like this?
“If I’m to the point where there’s no progress made, there’s still no sign of what’s going on, I’m going to have to make an educated decision with my mom and the coaching staff about if that’s my time to stop.”
This coaching staff has no history with you. What do you imagine they are thinking about your situation?
“The coaches are human, too. I’m sure the thought of maybe he won’t come back, maybe he won’t get better, has probably come up. I’ve heard everything from everybody. For me to be the player I was last year and not be contributing this year, I guess that would be hard (for the coaches).
“But from the beginning, coach (Andy) Buh has been, `It’s your health first.’ That’s something as a player you can appreciate in your coach.”
What do you make of the injury epidemic that has struck your team, and especially the defense?
“I’m bewildered at how so many guys have gone down. This is the worst luck I’ve ever seen. The guys that have replaced us, it hasn’t been a success story by any means, but I can see the growth in them.”
How much different will the defense be a year from now if you’re able to return healthy, along with Brennan Scarlett, Avery Sebastian, Stefan McClure and Mustafa Jalil?
“It’ll be a tremendous difference. In this culture, you can lead more by making a good play than you can by telling a kid the secret of life because they won’t see it. But if they see it, that speaks a lot.
“These are the guys you would build a program around.”
Was linebacker Hardy Nickerson beginning to show something before injuring his foot last Saturday?
“I think Hardy had a tremendous game against Arizona. I could see the guys start to gravitate toward him. He took a tremendous leap forward in his career and his development as a player. I’m getting goose bumps talking about it.
“We lost, but feeling like this is going in the right direction is something we need.”
So how much are you driven by a desire to see what the team can be a year from now?
“Coming out here, I wanted to be part of something bigger than me. I never saw myself as the guy. In training, I had the mindset that there’s somebody out there working harder than me, so I’m chasing somebody.
“To do this with the new staff and the new era, to be a part of the change and the push forward and to do it with those guys, it gets me out of that rut when you wake up and you wonder, should I just sleep today? It’s those guys who keep me going.”