LAFAYETTE — The first thought that popped into Mykhael Quave’s head was that he was going to be on the losing side of a sibling rivalry.
His brother, Daniel, set a school record by starting in 52 consecutive games. Big Mike was on track to match that. Playing through the pain was a sort of badge of honor for the Quave crew.
This year’s game against Louisiana Tech was a prime example. Something had gone horribly wrong with his left shoulder early in the game.
“I felt it as soon as it happened,” Quave said. “I was blocking a guy, then my arm kind of popped. After the play, it would just throb in pain. I kind of kept rotating it, kept it moving so it wouldn’t get stiff.
“It was manageable — kind of. But I could tell something was wrong.”
Physically diminished, Quave soldiered on and finished the game. Afterward, he needed help from his teammates to remove his shoulder pads.
An MRI few days later provided a grim diagnosis from Louisiana-Lafayette athletic trainer Travis Soileau: Quave had torn his rotator cuff.
He knew it would cause him to miss time, so he first thought first of being beaten by his brother. Then it sunk in.
“That was before it got real to me — that I’d played my last collegiate game,” Quave said. “It was like, dang, all this work I’d been putting in, for it to end like this?
“It really hurt me. I kind of broke down a little bit.”
This was the toughest thing — not only for Quave, but for those who have come to love him during his five years here.
“It crushed him. It crushed all of us,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “Not because we knew we had lost a great player, but because we knew what the senior year meant to him. His start streak. He wanted to finish the season and lead his team to a bowl game. It crushed him when it happened. It crushed all of us.”
There is not a more gregarious and affable person than Quave. He’s a favorite among teammates, coaches and media alike, and rarely a moment goes by where Quave isn’t lighting up a room with a smile that rubs off.
This was one of those moments. Quave’s upbeat demeanor was briefly defeated. It hit him hardest on Saturdays, his situation symbolized by an empty locker.
“I’m not going to lie: Every single gameday that we’ve had was horrible for me,” Quave said. “Being in the locker room, seeing everyone else get dressed and I get to my locker and I don’t have my helmet or my pants or cleats in my locker anymore.
“That was always a tough moment. I held it in, but you could tell something was wrong with me. It was just tough to come to that realization that I’m done with football.”
He had surgery roughly a week after the injury. Because of the way his arm was immobilized, Quave was not able to travel with the team whenever it flew. The only trip he’s made since the injury was a bus trip to South Alabama in Mobile.
At night, he slept fitfully. Doctors told him he needed to sleep on his back and keep his arm elevated on a pillow. He developed a habit of sleeping with his mouth open — he presumed because of the tubes put down his throat after surgery. If it wasn’t the pain getting to him, it was the dry mouth.
The torn rotator cuff had stripped him of two of his greatest joys.
“Sleep usually is my favorite part of the day, but I hated it,” Quave said. “I dreaded going to sleep soon after the surgery.”
But Quave is resilient. An unfortunate injury and restless nights aren’t enough to cloud his sunny disposition permanently.
“I had my moment,” Quave said. “After a while, I was just like, ‘What’s next?’ I’ve got to start making moves. I can’t sit and pout about it for too long, because life is going to keep going on. I had to start making moves toward the next step.”
The focus now is on the future, one that’s admittedly less certain than the one in front of him before the injury.
Quave was in contact with a representative from the Senior Bowl — which pits college football’s best seniors against each other in front of NFL scouts — and before the injury, he thought he had a good chance of earning a coveted slot.
That’s not going to happen now, though he may get a chance to attend a similar game so he can speak with scouts face-to-face and show off the personality that has made him so popular in Cajun country.
His professional prospects are also murkier. He’s hopeful to participate in some capacity at the Cajuns’ pro day next spring, as doctors told him he should be healthy by mid-to-late February. Considered to be a probable late-round draft choice before the injury, Quave will now likely have to earn his way onto a roster as a free agent.
That’s all right with Quave.
“I feel in my heart that if I could get my foot in the door, then I can produce on the field enough to make something happen for me,” Quave said.
But before that comes, he’s still got one final act left as a Ragin’ Cajun. Saturday, he will be honored with 18 other teammates for senior day.
“I really hope the fans will give him a great going away present with a great cheer,” Hudspeth said.
As he makes that last jog out of the tunnel onto the turf, older brother Daniel will be there waiting for him along with his parents. His thoughts then won’t be about the sibling rivalry or what might’ve been.
You can’t keep Quave down for long.
“It’s going to be a lot of mixed emotions,” Quave said. “I’m excited about what the next chapter is going to be, but kind of just living in the moment and reminiscing about the good times as a Ragin’ Cajun.”