Kavario Middleton bounced back from all the pad-to-pad knocks, the violent helmet-to-helmet collisions and the other body-cracking thumps he took with the University of Washington football team.
The blow that sent the tight end from Lakes High School reeling was the one delivered July 20 – a dismissal from the team for reckless behavior. The team termed it a violation of its rules.
Sources later confirmed that Middleton had failed multiple drug tests instituted by campus officials.
After he was downcast and unsure about his future, Middleton’s hopes of playing college football are on the upswing this week. He will soon travel 1,700 miles to join his next team – the University of Nebraska – at his new home in Lincoln, Neb.
While all the paperwork has not been finalized, signs point toward this new chapter in Middleton’s life as being close to official. He was optimistic when he spoke about the change Tuesday in an exclusive interview with The News Tribune.
“I’m definitely relieved, overjoyed – all of that. Rejuvenated,” Middleton said. “It feels like a breath of fresh air to me to go to a big school, and a great program. I feel blessed.”
The result is bittersweet. Thankful for another opportunity at Nebraska, Middleton also regrets how his Montlake tenure ended.
“There’s definitely a sadness,” he said. “This is my home. … It’s hard to leave all of this behind.”
Middleton was one of the key returning players new coach Steve Sarkisian was counting on in 2009. The tight end responded with a career-high 26 catches, including three TDs, for the Huskies (5-7).
Away from the field, his attention was diverted.
“For me, I was still being around home,” Middleton said. “I was being around my family and friends, and I didn’t have a chance to be on my own, and be focused.”
Middleton did not deny the claims that he failed drug tests during the offseason.
“I really don’t know how to explain it,” he said.
As for UW’s decision to let him go, Middleton does not harbor any ill will, especially toward Sarkisian.
“I did get a fair shake,” Middleton said. “Sark … went to bat for me. We have a great relationship.”
Middleton said, he has not had much contact with his ex-teammates. He’s talked to receiver Jordan Polk, his old roommate.
“I haven’t reached out to anybody because they’re in (fall) camp,” he said. “When things settle down and when my situation becomes official, I’ll reach out to them and give them my best wishes.”
He researched his options for a football future. Dave Miller, his coach at Lakes High, called who had been interested in Middleton as a prep player.
Miller first phoned Charlie Baggett, the former UW receivers coach (2007-08), at the University of Tennessee. He called schools in the Northwest, including Montana, Eastern Washington and Central Washington.
Interestingly, it was Cornhuskers tight ends coach Ron Brown who contacted Miller. Defensive coaches had been reviewing film of UW in preparation for the teams’ Sept. 18 game at Husky Stadium, and were impressed by what they saw of Middleton.
“Kavario was looking for a place that had minimal distractions,” Miller said. “He wants a fresh start at a place on the right track, and this gives him the chance to play at the highest level again.”
Middleton goes to Nebraska as a walk-on – meaning he will pay his own way while sitting out his redshirt season.
If Middleton is successful and stays out of trouble, he will be put on scholarship Jan. 1.
“I wish him luck” Sarkisian told reporters after the UW team scrimmaged Tuesday afternoon.
And if somehow he sticks around and emerges from a group of underclassmen next season to replace tight ends star Mike McNeill, he could face his old team in a mid-September match in 2011 in Lincoln.
“Man, I’m anxious already,” Middleton said. “As soon as I found that out, I’ve been in the gym 24-7. To play my old team … it would be a great battle.”