When the Georgia Bulldogs step onto the field at 3:30 p.m. today to face Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl, it will be the culmination of an up-and-down season that got off to a rocky start — much like the collegiate football career of Chase Vasser.
When he graduated from Chestatee High in 2009, Vasser had no reason to suspect his successes on the high school football field wouldn’t immediately transfer to the college one.
After all, the linebacker was coming off a senior season in which he had 141 tackles and four sacks.
He signed a national letter of intent with his home-state Georgia Bulldogs and expected to contribute immediately in Athens.
And that’s just what seemed poised to happen.
Vasser had what he describes as a “good camp” in the summer of 2009 and was not scheduled to be redshirted because it was felt that he could be an immediate asset to the team.
After seeing limited action in the first three games, Vasser hit his first hurdle as a collegiate athlete.
A late night scooter ride ended with a crash that left Vasser unconscious in the middle of the road with a slight dislocation in his right knee and a partial tear in his left.
What followed was what Vasser describes as a “weird, complicated situation,” that resulted in the then 18-year-old receiving a redshirt and sitting out the rest of his freshman year.
“I wasn’t supposed to get the redshirt, but it was felt that my injury would take too long to heal and it wouldn’t be worth wasting the whole season on rehab,” Vasser said.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder said that, if was he going to be redshirted, that was not how he wanted it to happen.
“I only missed six games, so I didn’t get as much of an advantage with the redshirt as you would like to,” Vasser said. “I had to nurse myself back to where I was before I got injured and by that time the season was almost over.”
The Bulldogs finished the 2009 season with a 44-20 win over Texas A&M in the Independence bowl and an 8-5 record, while Vasser finished 2009 with a strong desire to be on the field the next time the Bulldogs were in a bowl game.
Spring practice rolled around, and Vasser was making progress.
“(Defensive coordinator) coach (Todd) Grantham told me, after the first two weeks of spring, that I was going to be a big contributor this season,” Vasser said. “I was going to be the backup to Darryl Gamble.
“I finally thought that I had come all the way back from being hurt.”
And then the injury bug struck again.
“I pulled my hamstring in practice,” Vasser said. “And I was out.”
It took the rest of spring practice, but Vasser said that he worked hard and got back up to full strength in time for the G-Day Game in April. The linebacker had a pair of assisted tackles in the second half of that game, in which he saw limited snaps.
“I had to make sure I came back as strong as I had been,” Vasser said of the rehab he continued after the G-Day Game. “I had to have a good (summer) camp and prove to Grantham that I could still play.”
So the Bulldogs went to camp and Vasser set about proving he was still the recruit that signed with Georgia the year before.
“I made a lot of plays in camp,” Vasser said. “I was worried after getting hurt that (Grantham) wasn’t going to give me any reps, but he gave me a shot and I’ve made the most of it.
“I got on special teams and then just started ballin’ out.”
Vasser has been a staple on a special teams group which limited opponents to less than 20 yards per kickoff return and 5.6 yards per punt return.
On defense, Vasser has played in eight games this season, recording one solo tackle and two assisted tackles and just hopes to have the chance to step on the field this afternoon.
“I want to play in a bowl game,” Vasser said. “I got the feel of being at one last season, but I want to step on the field and make a play and hear the crowd.
“Then I’ll know that I really beat the injuries.”