Relentless, driven, focused: Sease leads Blue Hawks defense despite injury
It's no surprise that senior Thomas Sease leads the Dickinson State football team in solo tackles. The shocking part is that he does it with a broken right wrist that required surgery.
Midway through the season opener against Rocky Mountain College, Sease knew something was wrong.
The outside linebacker felt a familiar pain in his right wrist — he had broken his left one just three games into his junior season.
"I knew right away that I broke it," Sease said. "I was looking for the trainers, got it taped, and then got done with the game and it started to hurt a lot worse. I went in for X-rays on (that) Monday and it was the exact same bone, just the other hand."
Despite the injury, he has played all but one game and leads the team with 21 solo tackles and 38 total tackles through five games played.
"What he's done to play at the level that he plays has been incredible," head coach Pete Stanton said. "He's been relentless. He's so driven and so focused. Most guys are out for the season and his biggest concern is, 'Am I going to miss practice?'"
Sease recorded 10 total tackles last week in a 35-20 win over Valley City State, which pushed the team's record to 5-1 overall and 4-0 in the NSAA.
"It definitely doesn't feel normal, but it's to a point where it's bearable and that's all I'm really concerned about," Sease said. "I just try to not play through it and not think about it."
He didn't wait for the pain to be bearable to play, though.
Following X-rays, doctors suggested surgery right away, but Sease declined, wanting to play in an upcoming game against Northwestern College (Iowa). Following the 37-3 loss to the Red Raiders, he finally got surgery which installed a screw in his wrist.
The team had a bye week before facing Mayville State, but Stanton still sat Sease against the Comets.
"The incredible thing through this whole process is Tommy didn't miss a beat with it," Stanton said. "Here he was, having trouble with the one wrist and the other one's broken. ... We precautionarily held him out of the Mayville game, although he didn't want to come out. We kept him out and I'm glad we did."
Considering Sease hadn't missed a game in at least two years, the experience was difficult.
"It was just so hard for me to watch," he said. "It really changed my perspective on things. Watching the guys play without me, it honestly hurt me. I really wanted to be out there. I also felt like taking the week off was probably the right decision. It still hurts from time to time so I couldn't even imagine playing then."
Playing through an injury is familiar to the Bismarck native. After breaking his left wrist last season, Sease went on to earn 128 total tackles, good for second-most among all North Star Athletic Association players. He played in all 12 games last season despite wearing a club-like cast, including the NAIA opening round playoff game against Montana Tech.
"The week of the game I saw him without a cast on and said, 'Well, what happened?'" Stanton recalled. "He said, 'I cut it off. It's a big game,' and he played without his cast in that game."
The Blue Hawks lost, but Sease had 13 tackles, just three shy of his season-high of 16.
Sease had surgery on his left wrist five months ago to put in two screws. He still wears a thin two-piece, plastic brace over his left wrist, which Sease said is in worse shape than his right.
On his right wrist, he has a standard cast which he wraps with foam pads prior to a game. Unlike his left hand last year, his right fingers are able to wiggle and "roam freely," as Sease put it, making it marginally easier for him to get his hands on the ball.
The senior had one interception against Rocky Mountain College, and although he nearly had one against the Vikings last Saturday, hasn't had one since.
"It's difficult and on top of that, it hurts," Sease said. "It hurts to catch the ball but that was definitely one I should have caught. I was angry after I dropped it."
Sease has made himself known as one of the best linebackers in the conference throughout his four years as a Blue Hawk, but he didn't even play the position until coming to Dickinson State.
"When I was younger, in high school, I actually played defensive line," Sease said. "I was about 250, 245 (pounds) and then I lost a bunch of weight after my senior year because I didn't like how I looked. A lot of schools didn't really want me anymore so Dickinson allowed me to be the weight that I'm at now and play linebacker so that was one of the main reasons why I came here."
Ever since, Sease has been an integral part of the defense and a leader for upcoming players.
"He's not going to be a 'rah-rah' guy with his leadership," Stanton said. "He's just going to do it by example. He's going to go out there every day and be one of the hardest workers on the team. On the field, off the field, he's going to lead in the classroom. He's just relentless. The other guys feed off of that. They know how hard he competes and how hard he plays."
The Blue Hawks have four more regular season games, followed by a likely playoff appearance, before Sease can rest his ailing wrists for good. Until then, he will keep playing through the pain.
"One, it's just for my teammates," Sease said. "And two, I just want to be known as one of those guys who didn't have an excuse and kept going no matter what."