Joel Skotte ends football career

Oregon State linebacker from Bend derailed over neck injury

By Zack Hall / The Bulletin / @cogolfguy

Skotte file

Height: 6-2, Weight: 240

Sophomore, linebacker

Prep: Mountain View

College stats

Year Games Tackles FF-FR

2013 11 6-7-13 0-0

2012 13 3-4-7 1-0

Total 24 9-11-20 1-0

Joel Skotte is retiring from football.

Skotte, an Oregon State linebacker from Bend, said Thursday by phone in Corvallis that the risk of continuing to play football was too high after sustaining serious neck injuries during his sophomore season in 2013.

“It’s hard to give it up like that and I definitely wasn’t ready to give it up,” Skotte said. “But I really do think everything happens for a reason and this is God’s plan for me.”

“I think it is what is best, even though it doesn’t seem like that right now. It’ll be hard, especially during the fall to watch (OSU football) without me. But I am at peace about it,” he added.

Skotte ruptured two disks and herniated another during the 2013 season. He had surgery — a procedure similar to what NFL quarterback Peyton Manning underwent — in late February to repair the damage.

That surgery proved successful and much of his neck pain has subsided since, Skotte said.

But his gradual decision to retire from football was made with his future in mind.

During his recovery, two neurosurgeons advised Skotte that he should consider quiting football because the risks of severe reinjury were too high.

“At first I thought there was nothing that can stop me from coming back,” Skotte said. “Then I started thinking about when I actually get out there on the field am I going to be able to get past what those two neurosurgeons said and actually stick my head in there and hit someone? I honestly don’t think that I could play without protecting my neck the whole time.

“When you are playing scared that’s when you get hurt worse. I think that is when I started to realize that no matter how good this surgery is, it is going to be hard to get past that.”

Skotte met with OSU coach Mike Riley recently and the two decided that it might be best for the linebacker to hang up his cleats.

Riley also announced Skotte’s decision Thursday at Pac-12 Media Days in Los Angeles.

“It’s a result of the surgery and just not being sure that he’s ever going to play,” Riley said. “He’s going to focus on school. So that’s a relatively late change.”

Skotte first injured his neck during practice in late October. Then on the opening kickoff of a November game against USC at OSU’s Reser Stadium, Skotte was knocked unconscious while blocking for a kick return.

He suffered a concussion and the blow worsened his neck injury, Skotte said.

Not knowing the severity of the injury, Skotte returned to action three weeks later and logged six tackles against Washington and another tackle the following week against Oregon.

That tackle against the Ducks turned out to be his last. Skotte did not play against Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

“I think that is the hardest part, too, is I didn’t really get to prove to myself what I could do at this level,” Skotte said. “I did prove to myself that I could compete at this level, so that was good.”

Among the greatest players Bend has ever produced, Skotte was a dominant player at Mountain View. He led the school to its first-ever state football championship as a senior in 2011. That year he was also named Oregon’s Class 5A defensive player of the year.

He signed to play with OSU in early 2012, turning down scholarship offers from Boise State, Washington State, San Diego State, Air Force and Idaho to play close to home.

Skotte made an immediate impact in his freshman season at OSU, playing special teams in 13 games and logging seven tackles. And he started at middle linebacker for the first four games of his sophomore season.

Inconsistent play and injuries derailed the rest of his 2013 season, but he said he would not have done anything differently if given the chance.

“No regrets,” said Skotte. “I think I played as hard as I could every day, and practiced as hard as I could, and worked as hard as I could. I don’t have any regrets about my time here at OSU.”

Oregon State will honor the remainder of Skotte’s scholarship, he said, and the pre-veterinary medicine major expects to graduate in 2016.

“It was really, really honorable of Coach Riley to keep me on,” said Skotte, who also plans to remain part of the program and be a student representative for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Despite being forced to give up the game he loves, Skotte was in a thankful mood Thursday.

In fact, he feels blessed to have had a supportive family who traveled to all his games, as well as the support of Mountain View coaches and Bend in general.

“It’s been such a good experience and such an awesome opportunity I had,” said the relentlessly positive Skotte. “I am just so appreciative of all the people who helped me get here.

“It’s been a great ride and I am just looking forward to what the future holds. I will finally be able to think about what I am going to do without football.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7868, zhall@bendbulletin.com.