Wyoming’s Sabastian Harsh Entering 2023 With a New Perspective
LARAMIE -- Sabastian Harsh was the unquestioned MVP of camp.
Daily, Wyoming's head coach Craig Bohl would step behind the podium and with raised eyebrows praise the sophomore defensive end. He talked about his motor, his football IQ and his gift for blowing around the edge on the pass rush.
Then, the talk stopped.
Just four days before the Cowboys were set to open the season at Illinois, the worst-case scenario transpired. Harsh, going through a routine drill, heard a pop. It was his left knee.
"I felt a shock down to my toes," he said.
It was all over before it ever began.
A tear formed in the corner of Harsh's left eye Tuesday when he began to describe his reaction that day. Fearing the worst, the news was even more devastating than he could have even imagined. He suffered a broken knee cap, a full horizontal separation.
"They took the ice off and I bent it a little bit," he continued. "That's when I could see the space in between. That was probably one of the hardest things."
The physical pain was nearly immediate. Emotionally, however, Harsh still struggles with what transpired.
"You can't put it into words," he said, covering his mouth before an extended pause. "Even now I'm getting emotional talking about it. I put in so much work, and in one play -- done."
Rehab was painful, he said, but nothing compared to the helpless feeling of watching his teammates take the field each Saturday.
Harsh, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs in at 242 pounds, has appeared in just 13 games in a Cowboys uniform. He has just seven tackles to his credit, five of the solo variety, most coming on UW's special team's unit. Still, he was expected to lead a defensive end group that had zero combined sacks under its belt heading into last season.
He showcased his athleticism in practice. His technique, sound. His grasp of gap assignments, second nature.
This was supposed to be his time.
"I hate to use the word hate, but I hate watching last year," Harsh said, a slight grin creasing his face. "Sitting on the sideline and watching on TV, I was happy for my teammates, my brothers, but at the same time, it hurt. Like, every single play.
"I'd take a mental rep or try and put myself in position and think, dang, I could've been there. I could've done something right there. It definitely hurt me. The thought process was, I wish I was out there."
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One play in high school, a booming 79-yard punt after scrambling into the end zone to coral an errant snap, thrust Harsh into the national spotlight. That came during the 2019 Nebraska state championship game inside Lincoln's Memorial Stadium.
The highlight was featured on ESPN, CBS Sports and a number of other national outlets. The text messages, he joked, seemingly never stopped.
That play was special, but it was his consistency that caught the eye of the Wyoming staff.
During that title tilt, a heartbreaking 21-20 loss to Skutt Catholic, the Scottsbluff star scored three touchdowns on the ground and rushed for 216 yards from the quarterback position. On the defensive side of the ball, Harsh tallied seven tackles, including one for loss. Lining up at linebacker, he even picked off a pass.
Harsh rolled up an impressive 2,674 yards of total offense during his senior campaign. Nearly 1,800 of those came on the ground. When the dust settled on his prep career in western Nebraska, he had accounted for 4,651 yards.
He wanted to be a Husker. They didn't want him.
"He was above the bar as far as our evaluation, athletically, in my experience of what a Nebraska player looks like, and that transitions into success on the field," Bohl said last spring. "We felt good about his athleticism."
Just not his grades.
Admittedly, Harsh let that part of the process slip. That all turned around when he accepted a preferred walk-on opportunity in Laramie. Bohl and Co. didn't give up on him, but he had work to do.
That's just another aspect of this injury that has been so taxing on Harsh. The psychological pitfall was overwhelming. In fact, it still is.
Just last week Harsh received medical clearance. Tuesday, for the first time in eight months, he tossed a pair of shoulder pads over his head and strapped on his helmet.
He kept repeating -- eight months.
That's 243 days. It's 5,840 hours, 350,400 minutes.
This was no ordinary practice for him.
"It's been too long," he said. "I was telling my coaches before practice, I mean, it's been eight months since I've been able to do a snap of football. I walked out today and said, this is actually happening. Let's strap it up. Let's go. It's here."
Bohl said Harsh was "rusty" on Tuesday and still looked "a bit off." That's to be expected. Brian Hendricks, UW's new defensive ends coach, said the key this spring will be to save Harsh from himself.
He wants to bust out of the gates. Hendricks wants him to be healthy.
"Watching him practice on Day 1, that's going to be hard to do, because that kid plays lights out," Hendricks said. "His motor is phenomenal. He's picking up things very quickly and I think he's on path to set the conference on fire."
Harsh is learning to trust that left knee again. He's also sore. It's the good kind, though, He said. The feeling you get from being back out on a football field again. The mindset is admittedly different this spring.
All it takes is one snap to change everything.
"It gives you a lot of perspective," Harsh said. "I'm not Superman."
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