10/16/18 Fall football practice, Elijah Sindelar, Viktor Beach

Then-redshirt freshman offensive lineman Viktor Beach snaps the ball to then-junior QB Elijah Sindelar while running plays at practice.

“Soul-crushing.”

That’s how sophomore center Viktor Beach described a back injury that has sidelined him for the majority of spring practices.

After sitting behind former center Kirk Barron for two years, learning the playbook and a deeper love for the game of football, his chance was finally up to become the starting center and earn the coveted spot.

“Watching (Barron) play, seeing the joy on his face and getting wins after what he’s been through with this program,” Beach said, “seeing that joy on his face and how he loves this school made me want to jump into that spot so much more.”

But that opportunity quickly changed in late January over a span of 48 hours.

The lowest disc in his spine broke open. The fluid that came out pinched the nerves that control his right leg, effectively limiting the motion and feeling in it, creating a “dead leg” feeling.

With any back injury, more caution is usually taken due to the area of the body and the impact the injury can have on the rest of the body. Physical therapy, stretching and a combination of heat and ice can typically be used for treatments.

“You can’t do much treatment on it,” Beach said. “The only treatment is time.”

An injury like that is hard to process and overcome mentally as is. No working out, lifting or practicing. But to experience that after finally having the opportunity to start?

“Soul-crushing.”

His priority was the film room until spring practices began. When day one came around, he tried to practice, but knew early on that he wasn’t ready.

“With (Beach) we were optimistic that we want him to have a good camp coming in as our starting center,” said head coach Jeff Brohm. “Unfortunately due to the injury and lack of reps, he’s gotta get in better shape. He’s gotta make sure he’s 100 percent.”

Beach has to come back fully ready to play, but also to compete for the job that most would consider his to lose.

“Even though I’m ‘Next in line,’ it’s still not my job,” Beach said. “I have to go out and earn it every day, and not being able to do that this spring was really tough.”

That’s when the sophomore found someone to look up to who went through a similar injury. Someone to help coach him through the frustration of not being able to take the field — one of his own coaches.

Offensive line graduate assistant Max Halpin, who played for Brohm at Western Kentucky, went through a similar season-ending injury.

“At first, I was like ‘Okay, this is something that I can’t really show,’ that’s how I’m feeling,” Beach said. “If you have a broken leg, you can obviously see that you have a broken leg.”

Communication of injuries is an important part of a player-coach relationship. But expressing an injury that you can’t show sometimes can’t convince a coach that the injury exists.

In Beach’s case, history is — unfortunately — on his side.

“Even the MRI, its tough to see exactly what’s going on. So to have someone on the staff to know what I was going through really helped a lot and it helped me to just be calm and get back into things.”

As Beach slowly returns to spring practices, he knows he has an uphill battle to earn the spot that he has wanted to claim for so long. Sophomore lineman Sam Garvin has been working with the first team line for the majority of the spring, and Beach is “beyond impressed” with his performance.

There are a plethora of injuries across the board, hitting the Boilermakers hard during the spring. It’s less than ideal to have a potential starting center out. It’s even more worrisome to have the starting quarterback out.

Fifth-year senior Elijah Sindelar suffered a hyperextended knee late in the spring, but the injury isn’t as concerning as originally expected after an MRI produced negative results. Sindelar won’t play the rest of spring after the injury in order to preserve his health for the summer and start of season in fall.

The two have been able to rely on each other for advice and mental strength. They spent most of last season taking second team snaps together behind Barron and former quarterback David Blough.

“We’ve just grown and spent a lot more time together. ... It’s tough ‘cause he’s out too now,” Beach said. “I know his drive to play football is super high and mine’s right up there with him.”

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