Pacific Lutheran

After serious head injury, Derek Chase delivering big plays in PLU secondary

Derek Chase, a 2013 graduate of Capital High, has returned to play safety for the PLU Lutes after missing a year due to a brain injury.
Derek Chase, a 2013 graduate of Capital High, has returned to play safety for the PLU Lutes after missing a year due to a brain injury. Courtesy of Pacific Lutheran University

Derek Chase said it would be “weird” to play defensive back and not be upset about a blown coverage or tackle.

Largely, the Capital High School graduate has been a reliable defender for Pacific Lutheran University this season. He had his first career interception Sept. 26 in a 23-13 loss to Trinity.

But Chase has learned to lighten up on himself, especially considering everything he’s gone through in the past year while recovering from a head injury that caused bleeding on his brain.

In the third game last season against Linfield, Chase was in on a tackle on the very first play. Immediately after it, he felt a giant headache coming on that lasted the entire game.

“I was not seeing stars, so I didn’t think I was concussed,” Chase said. “But I was not sleeping the best.”

Chase made it through a full game the following week against Lewis & Clark. But during next week’s practice, he started feeling awful again. His sight became fuzzy and he fell to the ground dizzy.

The next day, he went to Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia for a computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test.

Doctors discovered Chase was suffering from a subdural hematoma — blood accumulation between the surface of the brain and the dura mater, the brain’s outer covering — on his right side.

“Once I got the seriousness of (the injury) understood, I was freaking out,” Chase said. “It wasn’t just about whether I’d play football again, it was would I inner tube again, or if I got hit in the head once, was I toast?”

Rest — not surgery — was prescribed. He was not allowed to do any physical activities for four months.

By March, Chase began doing push-ups and light jogging.

“Every ounce of my strength was gone,” Chase said. “It was like starting from ground zero.”

In all, it took him 10 months to return to normal. Doctors cleared him to resume football 10 days before the start of fall camp at the end of August.

“The first practice I had my helmet on … was kind of freaky. So was the first game,” Chase said. “Now I am over it.”

This season, Chase has been tasked to lurk closer to the line of scrimmage to take on tight ends or slot receivers on pass-catching routes. It’s a move necessitated by the Lutes starting a batch of new players. PLU defensive coordinator Craig McCord has shaken things up, tweaking his staple, 3-4 zone blitzing scheme into more of a man-to-man, 3-2-5 look.

“He has done a good job,” McCord said. “He has really settled in with his work ethic and his leadership. He wasn’t vocal his first two years, but he has stepped into that role as well.”

Chase said the transition to his new role has been helped by the tutelage of volunteer coach Greg Hibbard — a former Capital High School teammate as well — and Sean McFadden while they helped get PLU to a pair of NCAA Division III national playoff berths (2012-13).

“I have always looked up to Greg in high school because of his work ethic and knowledge of the game,” Chase said. “When I watch tape of teams we’ve played, I watch how he moved on the field, or how he read things.”

Chase knows man-to-man coverage is a feast-or-famine endeavor. But he is human. He was victimized on a corner route for a score early in PLU’s 34-7 loss last weekend at Pacific.

“We ran a lot of man-to-man (defense) in high school, but it is tougher now because I am playing down low — especially after in years past where you could play high in cover-2 or in zone,” Chase said.

“I’ve made some mistakes already … and in the past it was tough to let things go. I am better flushing things now, even though if giving up a big play doesn’t tick you off, or motivate you — you are weird, in my opinion.”

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442