It took two rings on the telephone, and a few seconds to realize Kavario Middleton's state of being.
Thankful for a second chance.
He's about to be a football player again – at Nebraska, another big-boy program in the Big 12 Conference (and soon to be realigned Big Ten).
Middleton, the talented high school All-American out of Lakes High School, and top in-state recruit from the 2008 class, spent two seasons trying to find his niche under two different coaching regimes at the University of Washington in Seattle.
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Even though he had a career-high 26 catches in coach Steve Sarkisian's tight end-friendly offense, the overall assessment was that his contributions were spotty and inconsistent, particularly as a blocker.
Last spring, Chris Izbicki passed him on the depth chart, and assumed the role of top UW tight end.
Then it unraveled, and quickly for Middleton. On July 20, he was dismissed from the team for good. The reason? Repeated failed drug tests.
Middleton moved back home, and went into hiding. He huddled with Dave Miller, his old coach at Lakes High School, and immediately had a man-to-man, heart-to-heart meeting about the football standout's transgressions at the UW.
Up front, Middleton was candid. And so was Miller about where Middleton's football career – and life – was headed.
"Hopefully it cements what I've told the (Lakes High football) kids – I'll be there for you regardless," Miller said. "You have to be there when they need tough love, a hand up – not a hand out. This is about a young man that needs to continue to grow and mature."
Miller certainly was the ally Middleton needed to make a next move. The coach phoned coaches from universities that initially recruited the tight end out of high school. He called friends in the Northwest. He'd talk to any coach who would listen.
"He's been really valuable. Me and him, we've been through wars – being a player for him," said Middleton in an exclusive interview with The News Tribune on Tuesday afternoon.
"I was relieved knowing I had his support, and he reached out to a lot of coaches."
Initially it looked like Middleton would be on the move to Montana. When Ron Brown, a 20-year Cornhuskers assistant and current tight ends coach, called in, he immediately showed a vast amount of interest.
Brown told Miller that the Nebraska staff had been watching film of upcoming opponents, including the UW. The coaches saw Middleton, and were immediately intrigued – especially since their own standout, Mike McNeill, would be entering his senior season as the team's top pass-catching tight end.
School records, including a transcript, were forwarded to Lincoln, Neb. So was an application to get into school.
The paperwork has not officially been finalized, but the signs are promising – enough that Middleton is already planning on packing up and leaving town this weekend.
Which is where I began – at the beginning of our phone conversation today. Talking to him, it almost sounded as if he was going through the recruiting process all over as a high school senior, and had just given a school an oral commitment.
"Definitely relieved, overjoyed – all of that," Middleton said. "Rejuvenated."
• He will enter as a walk-on recruit the first semester and pay his own way.
• His standing with the football team is based on meeting pre-determined conditions for his behavior.
• After one semester – he will redshirt this season – if he meets the conditions agreed upon, he will go on scholarship starting Jan. 1.
"He has the opportunity to show if his actions match his words," Miller said. "And I'm hoping and praying that he will."
Of course, he leaves behind plenty in the South Sound – his family, friends and teammates he's not sure fully understand his situation. Jordan Polk, the receiver out of Portland, was his Seattle roommate the past two seasons, and he's stayed in contact with him.
"I haven't reached out to anybody because they're in (fall) camp," Middleton said. "When things settle down and when my situation becomes official, I'll reach out to them and give them my best wishes."
Asked if he felt Sarkisian gave him a fair shake through the ups and downs of 2009, Middleton did not hesitate to say, "He went to bat for me. Me and him, we have a great relationship."
As for the reported the reason he was kicked out of the program – drug use – he was vague about the topic.
"I really don't know how to explain it," he said. "It is what it is. I did what I did. It happened. I can't go back in time and change it."
In general, it's been a bittersweet period for the big man. He's happy to be moving on, and to a new area away from family and friends (even though his mother, Tamera, will be close in Minnesota). But he's disappointed in how his career concluded with the Huskies.
"There's definitely a sadness," he said. "This is my home. I've gotten close to a lot of players up there. I've got a lot of family relationships up there. It's hard to leave all of this behind."