After a fourth surgery cut short his UW career, the senior plans to help coach his teammates on the offensive line this season.
Throughout the summer and into the first week of fall camp, all was well with Dexter Charles and his left knee. At least, after four surgeries in about 12 months, his body was feeling well enough that he was getting excited about opening up his fourth season as the Huskies’ starting left guard.
“We had a special training program that I was doing in the summer and we were being really smart with it,” Charles said of his recovery from the offseason operation on the knee. “It was doing really good.”
Then, three days before Washington announced his sudden retirement, Charles felt particular discomfort in his knee during UW’s practice at the Seahawks’ training facility last Friday. “I took my knee brace off,” he said, “and it was a little different than before. It starting hurting worse.”
He had his knee drained in an attempt to reduce swelling, with no success. An MRI then revealed the extent of the damage: He would need another surgery, this time a complete reconstruction of the knee. His football career was over.
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“I was getting all excited to play, and then I felt like the ground was taken out from underneath me: ‘What do you mean I can’t finish my senior year?’” Charles said in an interview Friday.
Four days after the announcement, he said the reality of life after football is still sinking in.
“It doesn’t seem real,” he said.
A 6-foot-5, 313-pound Stanwood High School graduate, Charles seemed to relish the anonymity that came with being an offensive lineman. Even more, he was proud of his ability to play through pain. He didn’t complain while playing through shoulder injuries in 2013 that required three operations in three consecutive months in early 2014 — two operations on his right shoulder, one on his left, fixing both rotator cuffs, among other issues — and he didn’t complain while playing through the knee problems last season.
He credits his toughness to his father, a former Marine.
“That was instilled in me at a very young age,” he said.
“I liked to pride myself as a guy who would fight through anything,” he added. “Failure was never something I would consider as an option. I knew my knee was bad. I was doing everything I could to keep it going day in and day out — fight and fight and fight.”
Charles sat out all of spring ball this year while recovering from the knee operation. He also completed his undergraduate degree.
Two doctors advised him last week that he couldn’t continue to play. The cartilage in his knee has been completely shredded, to the point where his bones were rubbing together so badly that they were bleeding internally. He plans to have the reconstructive surgery sometime in the next couple weeks.
“We exhausted all our options,” he said. “I never quit on that. I tried everything I could.”
He said he will continue to help UW’s young offensive line throughout the season, and after the season he plans to apply for graduate-assistant jobs as a first step into a coaching career.
“It’s what I love and what I know,” he said.
A conversation Charles had this week with teammate Deontae Cooper, UW’s veteran running back who had three major knee operations, helped put things in perspective.
“Deonate said, ‘Man, not only do you have to be good, but you have to be lucky too.’ And I really believe that,” Charles said.
“In the end, you realize this is the game we play. … Not all of us are as as lucky as others, but we got to live the experiences and do things that a lot of people wish they could’ve done. And I will always appreciate that.”