Fear would be understandable for Colby Delahoussaye.
The first football game LSU’s senior kicker will play since the night his life nearly ended in a car accident in Wisconsin that claimed the lives of former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler and Nebraska punter Sam Foltz will come inside that state’s borders.
Yet there is no trepidation and no worry of flashbacks for the senior from New Iberia, La., as he and his Tigers teammates prepare to face the Badgers at Lambeau Field, less than two months after he was nearly killed on a dark, wet country road outside Merton, Wis.
“I’m excited about it,” he said.
How is that possible?
Because he will once again get to see Karen Sadler.
Delahoussaye’s life changed profoundly the night of July 23.
Riding in the backseat of a car with Sadler and Foltz up front, Delahoussaye suffered deep second-degree burns down his leg in a fiery crash that claimed the lives of his two friends. The trio were attending an elite kicking camp in Wisconsin and headed to the home of former Wisconsin punter Drew Meyer after a late-night game of Jenga.
But the road was too curvy and the pavement too wet along the unlit stretch, and Sadler was driving too fast to correct himself as the road curved. The car went down a 40-foot embankment.
Delahoussaye figures he is only alive for a handful of reasons. For one, he was wearing his seat belt. Secondly, by chance he happened to be the one in the backseat. And finally, his burns shook him from unconsciousness and allowed him to escape the vehicle.
Despite the traumatic event, Delahoussaye isn’t focused on the agony of what he went through. He sees it as an opportunity few people get — a chance to hit the reset button on life.
“It opened my eyes to just how blessed we are to be breathing,” Delahoussaye said. “We’re not guaranteed tomorrow. No one’s saying you’re definitely waking up. So why not have fun and be positive? There’s no need for negatives. I’m going to enjoy this team and camaraderie and kick the best I can.”
One of the people who helped him see that light? Sadler’s mother, Karen.
Though her own son was gone, Karen Sadler insisted on bringing Delahoussaye to the airport when he was released from the hospital following the accident.
“She’s such a sweetheart,” Delahoussaye said. “She’s such a strong woman. … You could tell she was holding back tears, but she just wanted to know what Mike’s attitude was like before the accident. I was so amazed at how strong of a woman she was. It was an eye-opening experience.”
It would be easy, and understandable, for a mother to wonder why her son wasn’t the one who walked away from the wreck and want nothing to do with the survivor. Grief does not always bring out our best.
But Delahoussaye has gotten nothing but warmth.
“Her attitude towards me — the first thing she told me was ‘God bless you, Colby’ and how happy she was I made it out,” he said. “For a mom who just lost her son, that’s one of the most difficult things to tell somebody. What she showed me in that 30 minutes, I’ll never forget it.”
Football is part of Delahoussaye’s healing process. Maybe the most integral part.
“I think you realize when you get out of a car and several people did not that you are very fortunate,” said LSU coach Les Miles. “He’s said that to the team and how much he looks forward to every day, and I think he had some significant burns, and his need to get back and his need to get rehabbed just was much more urgent.”
As for the physical challenges of kicking with burns up and down his plant leg, Delahoussaye has proven capable of doing it during August camp.
“I do a lot of treatment with my burns. Bandaging and all that to keep the sweat away from it,” he said. “I’m fine as far as kicking. I had no idea about burns. They take awhile to heal. It’s just a matter of keeping it clean, like any open wound. But as far as kicking, I feel great.”
Delahoussaye’s positive outlook will only be enhanced by visiting Lambeau Field, where he is set to meet Karen Sadler along with several coaches from the kicking camp.
For him, the strange coincidence of LSU playing its first game in Wisconsin since 1971 so soon after his own brush with death and the loss of he friends will provide closure.
And though he still mourns the loss of Mike Sadler, he cherishes the bond he has formed with Sadler’s mother, which he calls unbreakable.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be talking to her forever,” he said.