The thought of having to say goodbye to Devon Butler crossed Northern Illinois linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz's mind.
Sitting with NIU coach Dave Doeren in the waiting room at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center early Wednesday morning, just a couple hours after Butler was the victim of an off-campus shooting, Matukewicz said the doctors told him they'd have to perform surgery. He didn't know what to expect next.
As time past, Butler's condition gradually improved. His status upgraded from critical to serious Friday afternoon. The life-threatening moments are over, and NIU has returned to spring practice.
But for those first couple hours, Matukewicz said, the fear was very real. Daily Chronicle reporter Ryan Wood talked to Matukewicz on Saturday about his initial reaction to Butler's situation and NIU's return to the practice field. The following is an edited transcript:
To be able to come out and play football (last weekend), after how long and hard the week was, how much of a relief was that?
It was a release, that's exactly what is was. You got a lot of emotions built up about everything, and out here you've got to come out and just get a workout in and a release. So that's a good thing.
With something bigger than football looming over everything, how hard is it to concentrate on football?
Well, that's the challenge in everything. You got to be where your butt's at. If I'm at home, you know, my mind needs to be focused on my family. If I'm at the hospital, my focus needs to be on Devon. If I'm here, my focus needs to be on getting my players better. That's hard sometimes, you know. Being at home, thinking about Devon. Or I could be at practice thinking about my family. And neither one of those are good.
To know that Devon is in a good state right now with his health, does that help to kind of be able to focus?
Once the life-threatening stuff went away, at the end of the day you knew he was going to be OK. That's all I needed to hear. Whether he was going to play football again wasn't really important. It's just that he had his health and that he lived a normal life.
Can you talk about what those late-night Tuesday, early-morning Wednesday hours were like for you?
Unfortunately I had my cell phone off, which once this all happened I punched every window out in my house because people were trying to get a hold of me. But fortunately my wife had her cell phone on, so they were able to get a hold of her. Woke me up. I got to the hospital probably about 3 (a.m.) and left there about 9 (p.m.) the next day. It was a deal where you're not really sure what happened, so you're getting all this information. It was just a lot of confusion, and it was just praying for Devon and his health.
The doctors came in and said he wasn't stable with his blood pressure, and they were going to have to take him under and split his chest. At that point, you're like, 'Hey, this might be the last thing I'm ever going to get to say to this kid.' At that point it was really tough. Coach Doeren and I sat in chairs, just sit there and talked about it. And then about every hour we got a report, and the doctor would come out and give us all good news. It was never bad news, so it just got better and better.
Jordan [Saturday] paid tribute to Devon, wearing his No. 9 jersey around the practice field. How good was that for you to see?
Those guys are tough. People don't realize, you can't fake it out here. You know what I mean? You go through so much that you can't help but be close. These guys love Devon. They're like brothers. That's what Devon would want, for us to come out here and have a good day, and that's kind of what happened.