Chase Bertelsen took long road to Cleverley

Chase Bertelsen was a three-year All-State football player for the Wibaux Longhorns.

As a senior, Bertelsen registered 103 tackles, 11 of which went for a loss. He also was credited with four sacks and three recovered fumbles.

Saturday his prep career will close when he plays fullback and linebacker for the Red team in the 31st Bob Cleverley Class C 8-Man All-Star Football Game. That career at Wibaux includes 229 tackles and 10 sacks. He also received All-State honors on offense, where he played fullback and tight end.

That’s not bad considering the future Rocky Mountain College football player thought he might never play football again when he entered his freshman season.

Bertelsen, the son of long-time Wibaux Jeff Bertelsen and younger brother of former Rocky Mountain College linebacker Travis Bertelsen, had an osteochondral defect in his right knee.

That is a degenerate condition where the bottom of the femur bone erodes away.

“The bone wore off over time, I guess,” Chase Bertelsen said. “I braced it up for junior high and just fought through it. Before freshman year, he (his father) said, ‘Let’s get it go checked.’ We got X-rays, and it was pretty bad. The doctor their said we can fix it, but you won’t play sports again with a plastic piece. We had to wait for a cadaver bone.”

Bertelsen briefly thought his sports days were over. It turns out, though, not playing sports wasn’t an option. So, he was placed on a transplant donor list, prepared for a major surgery and waited.

“On the fifth day of school I was sitting in class and the teacher came in and said, ‘They got the right one,'” Bertelsen said. “I got my stuff and got on the road.”

The Bertelsens had to make the 12-hour drive to Vail, Colorado, immediately.

“We had to drive overnight,” Jeff Bertelsen said. “We got the call at 2 o’clock Tuesday afternoon and we had to be in Vail at 8 Wednesday morning. He had surgery on Thursday.”

That was only the beginning of the long journey, the first part of which was very painful, to say the least.

“You can Youtube the video and watch the actual procedure,” Jeff Bertelsen said. “Basically, they get a drill and drill out the dead-bone plug and put a new one in and attached it.”

An inch and a half of Bertelsen’s femur bone was replaced, and the recovery from the surgery was long and slow.

“I had to be on crutches for six months with no weight. It was rough,” Chase Bertelsen said. “It was rough.”

The younger Bertelsen said he wasn’t bothered knowing that his leg would forever contain a bone from a cadaver.

“I just wanted it fixed and fixed right,” he said. “I didn’t really care how they fixed it, just do it right.”

The recovery included spending long periods of time hooked up to a machine that kept his knee in motion.

“I had this machine and I had to do 10 hours a day with this machine. I had to do sleep with it overnight, and it just moved my leg up,” Bertelsen said. “The first couple of days was the most pain I’ve ever been through. It just felt like everything was tearing in there when it came up. It was a relieve when it went down, then it comes back up.”

Bertelsen returned to the football field as a sophomore, but he still wasn’t 100 percent.

“My legs were very weak. It took me a while to get those back strong,” he said. “My sophomore year you could tell my upper body was strong but my legs weren’t underneath me. I was always leaning forward.”

From his junior year on, Bertelsen showed no signs of the injury. In fact, he said now his right knee is his strongest knee thanks to all of the hard rehab work.

The Longhorns advanced to the quarterfinals of the Class C 8-man playoffs in 2012. In 2013, they reached the championship game.

Bertelsen had a monstrous day in Ennis, but the Longhorns fell in a 68-56 classic to the Mustangs in the title game. Bertelsen rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns, including a 77-yard score on the 80-yard field.

He also caught three passes for 48 yards and a touchdown.

Wibaux lost just the one game in 2013, even though Bertelsen was again playing through an injury for a good chunk of the season.

“It was actually the third, fourth game of the season,” Bertelsen explained. “After the game I went to the locker room. I went down, pulled my sock off and then I noticed it. I was ‘Wow, what is this?’ It was a separated AC (shoulder) joint. I didn’t feel it the whole game.”

Then, in the semifinal win over Belt, Bertelsen was a non-factor because of an illness that saw him get intravenous injections on the eve of the game.

“The semifinal game I was sick,” he said. “I only had two hours sleep. I went down to the ER in Baker, they put an IV in me and I got back to the high school at like 11:30.”

The game kicked off at 1 p.m.

“I got out there and I went a couple of series and was out,” Bertelsen said. “I landed on my shoulder and that was it for me. I just had nothing in me. No energy.”

Chase Bertelsen stretches during the end of a Red team practice Thursday at Montana Tech.

After the football season, Bertelsen was a force on the basketball court. He averaged 13.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game to lead the Longhorns to the Class C State tournament at the Butte Civic Center.

After falling to Fairview in the first round, Wibaux battled back and beat Fairview  58-45 to claim the third-place trophy. Bertelsen scored 15 points and eight rebounds in the consolation final.

Earlier in the basketball season, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Bertelsen signed to play football at Rocky, where he will replace his brother Travis as a linebacker for the Battlin’ Bears.

Bertelsen health science and athletic training in Rocky. He will also experience what it is like not playing football with his father as the coach.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” Bertelsen said. “It’s going to be different without him on the sidelines and the practice fields.”

The adjustment will be tougher for his father, who is an assistant with the Red team this year at the Cleverley.

“You’ve been doing it for so long, watching film together, talking at practice,” Jeff Bertelsen said. “We talk about football year round. We have forever. Now he’ll be in school. I don’t know, I can’t get our daughter Shantel to talk football.”

The older Bertelsen played in this game before going on to a career as a tight end at Dickinson State. He has also coached in it numerous times, so Chase Bertelsen knows what “The Clev” is all about.

“I’ve been here at least four or five times,” Chase Bertelsen said. “I’ve been on the sidelines, standing with him. It’s fun. All the guys said it was fun. I’m excited for Saturday.”

Jeff Bertelsen said it will be hard not to shed some tears on Saturday night.

“When the championship game was over, walking off the field together was emotional, not only because we lost, but because it was the last time,” he said. “Having that opportunity to come here and have the opportunity to work with him again is going to be tremendous.”

It is an opportunity that seemed unlikely less than five years ago when Bertelsen thought his days of playing sports were over.

“I started crying,” he said. “It was rough.”

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  • Ted Richards
    June 6, 2014, 6:06 pm

    Great article.

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