West Texas A&M safety Chazz Slatinsky (28) returned from injury to play in his first game in almost two years on Saturday. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]
It was a special night all the way around for West Texas A&M last Saturday.
The Buffs opened a new era in school history with its brand new on-campus stadium in front of 10,198 fans.
WT capped off perfect night in thrilling fashion with an impressive 35-16 win against a solid Azusa Pacific team.
As much as the game meant to the WT alumni, boosters, administers and the coaches, it won’t be as memorable as it was to senior safety Chazz Slatinsky.
Slatinsky was back on the field, seeing his first live action in a game since suffering a devastating knee injury against Texas A&M-Commerce on Oct. 28 of 2017.
“I’ll never forget it,” Slatinsky said. “I was pursuing a play on the backside and one of the Commerce receivers came and cut me, and took me out.”
Slatinsky’s injury was a long process. Following surgery, he rehabbed the entire offseason trying to get back for the start of the 2018 season. Due to the significance of his knee injury, Slatinsky didn’t feel he was ready to go, having to take a redshirt and watch from the sidelines all of last season.
“Being away from it that first year after the injury was hard on him,” WT head coach Hunter Hughes said. He never quit, he’s worked hard and he’s back doing a great job for us.”
When Hughes took over the program in 2017, Slatinsky was one of the few players to fully buy into what the new coach and his staff brought to the Buffs. During his junior season, the 5-10, 200 pound scrappy Slatinsky was a leader on the defense.
He’d earned that right by starting since his freshman year in 2015, and playing in a total of 27 games.
But as he sat out over 15 months, he saw the Buffs roster change in a big way.
“He’s had to re-establish himself as a leader,” Hughes said. “So many things have changed since he’s been out. We, the coaches, talk about leading by actions not by words. That’s what he’s done. I think his biggest attributes are leading by action and his work ethic.”
Slatinsky made a slow comeback during spring football in April. By fall camp in August, he was ready to go, earning his starting spot back in the secondary.
WT safety Chazz Slatinsky (28) shoves Azusa Pacific quarterback Tyrone Williams, Jr., out of bounds during the Buffs 35-16 win over the Cougars on Saturday. [Mackenzie Gerber/ Press Pass Sports]
Being back on the field on Saturday night, Slatinsky was back to his old self in a hurry. The captain made eight tackles in the victory. As the game ended and celebration erupted on the WT sideline, Slatinsky said as happy as he was, he couldn’t help feel waves of emotion flowing through him.
“I tried to keep it together,” Slatinsky said. “But it was a big deal for me. I still get chills thinking about it. My entire life I’ve had adversity thrown at me. I can love this game as much as I want, but it will never love me back. It just felt so good to be back out there.”
According to Slatinsky, despite all that has happened, he never thought about quitting and wouldn’t change a thing.
Sitting out and having to deal with his injury has made him who he is today. Being a young man deep in his faith, he feels God put certain people in his life for a reason at WT, especially the athletic training staff.
“Being injured, and seeing how the athletic training staff does things, has given me a new light on what they do,” Slatinsky said. “People don’t realize the hours they put in. They are up here as much, if not more, than the coaches are on a daily basis. What they do for our health, and being by our side is a blessing.”