HAMMOND — Southeastern Louisiana senior outside linebacker Kaleb Muse was almost giddy at the thought of getting hit again.
The Lions were into their first day of full-contact drills when Muse was presented with the first opportunity to test his surgically repaired shoulder. He took on offensive guard Aaron Reed in a drill that Reed won but officially welcomed back Muse, one of the Lions defensive leaders in the process.
“He’s a big guy and rung my bell a little bit,” Muse said during Saturday’s Media Day. “It got me right back on track. I realized being back in pads was definitely a fun time.”
A torn labrum in an Oct. 12 home win over Stephen F. Austin forced Muse to miss SLU’s final eight games — a stretch where the Lions nailed down the school’s first Southland Conference championship.
Just as agonizing as the season-ending injury was that, unlike the regular season when Muse joined his teammates on the sideline for games, only players available to play in the postseason were permitted in the team area.
That meant Muse watched intently from the stands at Strawberry Stadium while SLU dispatched of Sam Houston State in the opening round of the FCS playoffs before falling a week later to New Hampshire in the quarterfinals.
“It was very devastating, especially watching my teammates enjoy winning conference and win the first playoff game,” Muse said. “They supported me through it all. The coaches and teammates were all there for me. I hadn’t watched from the stands since junior high. It was a wake-up call, but I made it through.”
Muse said the injury occurred while trying to a shed a blocker in an effort to make a tackle.
The result was an arduous rehabilitation process that resulted in Muse missing the entire spring until getting medically cleared in mid-May and resuming weight lifting once again.
Muse said the result of his inactivity was a 20-pound loss in body weight with the three-year letterman now carrying 245 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame.
“He’s kind of a genetic freak as far as the weight room and that helps him overcome some things a little easier,” coach Ron Roberts said. “He lost a little weight. He’s as light as he’s been since I’ve been here and it shows. He’s run as fast since I’ve been here and he’s playing fast. He looks great and hasn’t missed a beat. He’s had a good fall camp.”
Two years ago Muse, the leading tackler at Ponchatoula High School his final three years, established his credentials as one of SLU’s top defensive players with a team-high 80 tackles, five stops for loss, two forced fumbles and an interception.
Before last season’s injury Muse registered 20 tackles, including a season-high six in a 38-17 loss at No. 24 TCU. He also had four stops in wins over Southeast Missouri and Incarnate Word.
SLC coaches and media said they thought enough of Muse to vote him to the league’s preseason second team.
“I’m a couple of steps faster,” he said. “It helps tremendously. Everything happens for a reason, maybe for me to develop my body in the weight room like I needed to. I’m right where I want to be.”
During Muse’s absence, where SLU reeled off seventh straight wins until the FCS quarterfinal loss to New Hampshire, the Lions turned to Justin Church and Dereck Robinson to fill the void.
Church was credited with 33 tackles, 8½ for losses and five sacks, earning the senior from Fontainebleau High in Mandeville preseason All-SLC second team honors.
Robinson, who prepped at Destrehan, finished with 38 tackles, 7½ for losses and played in all 14 of his team’s games.
As is the case with most spots on SLU’s defense, there’s plenty of depth creating quality competition throughout fall camp with Muse having regained his starting position ahead of Robinson. Church is backing up Isaiah Corbett at left outside linebacker.
“Every day there’s competition,” Muse said. “Being the starter doesn’t matter, because everyone’s going to get their snaps.
“We just try and make each other better and try not steal the spotlight. It’s really not about that. As long as we come out on Saturdays and win games is what it’s really all about.”