Aug. 26, 2004
By Tony Haynes Raleigh, N.C. - According to center Jed Paulsen, just seeing Chris Colmer back on the practice field gave the entire offensive line a lift when NC State opened preseason drills in early August. After all, it had been 12 full months since the one-time second-team All-ACC tackle had done anything related to football. But when the Pack donned helmets and shoulder pads for those first workouts three weeks ago, the imposing 6-6, 335-pound New Yorker was back at his familiar spot, anchoring the left side of NC State's offensive line. It had been just a year earlier that Colmer started feeling a strange tingling, stinging sensation in his left shoulder. As the symptoms grew worse, pain would, at times, shoot down his arm. After going through several specialists, it was determined that Colmer had contracted a rare nerve disorder called Parsonage Turner Syndrome. It was said at the time the symptoms could disappear within days or never completely go away. After waiting it out for several weeks, it became obvious to Colmer and everyone else involved with the NC State football program that he would not play football in 2003. All of a sudden, a player who had been projected as one of the top tackles in all of college football often had a difficult time just lifting a coke bottle with his left hand. Fortunately, Colmer's luck turned around somewhat when the NCAA granted him a rare sixth-year of eligibility, meaning he would be able to return to NC State for another season assuming he would be healthy enough to play. And although he's still not 100 percent, Colmer has made enough progress to compete for the first-team left tackle spot that he owned for three years before being stricken last August. "I think I've made a 180-degree turn and I feel like I'm a lot better than I was just a couple of months ago," Colmer said. "Just getting out there and practicing is kind of motivation, too. I'm excited to get back out there. I realized I could do it and that was motivation. It's good feeling." That motivation is a two-way street. His comrades on the offensive line, as Paulsen noted, have been inspired by Colmer's determination to beat what appeared to beat some rather long odds. Back in March, he still hadn't improved enough to participate in spring drills. But daily therapy, along with some regular pep talks from his teammates, kept Colmer in the right frame of mind, even in those times when his chances of coming back seemed so very doubtful. "The support of my teammates has been great throughout the whole thing," said Colmer, who has made 35 career starts. "I've gone through some tough times this past year and just knowing that I have my teammates here right by me is just a good thing to know. I'm just trying to help them out anyway I can." Trying to take a cautious approach, Wolfpack head coach Chuck Amato didn't want Colmer to do too much, too soon over the first week or so of practice and put some limits on his big tackle. But by the time NC State held its second scrimmage of the preseason last Saturday, Amato was more encouraged, saying Colmer was coming off his best week of practice. "Sometimes it will get weaker faster than my right arm, but it's nothing to be concerned about," Colmer said. "I think that will just take care of itself through conditioning. I was a little rusty, but now I think I'm back to a place where I need to be. Just like everyone else, I try to get better every day." If Colmer can even come close to being the player he was just a few years ago, NC State has a chance to field one of its best - and most experienced -offensive line in years. He would be working beside impressive left guard Leroy Harris, who turned heads week after week last season. Paulsen, of course, is a rock in the middle, while the likes of John McKeon, Derek Morris and Jon Holt are competing for playing time on the right side. Yes, for the first time in Amato's five years on the job, the Wolfpack actually has some worthy competition for playing time on the offensive line. In fact, the Pack now has scholarship players holding down all five back-up positions for the first time in the Amato era. "We've got a lot of guys fighting for positions, and we haven't had that before," Colmer said. "Before, we had five starters and that was it. This year we've got guys fighting for positions and we're a lot deeper than we've ever been. It's kind of like security. If someone were to go down or twist and ankle, it's security knowing that we have a guy that go in and not miss a beat." Chris Colmer hopes he won't miss a beat in 2004 after missing all of last season.
All Chris Colmer could do was watch last season.