Danny Chlebeck’s Spring Lake Park letterman jacket could use a third arm to house the patches earned through a love for sports.
When injury forced Chlebeck to drop one season of football and lacrosse, he picked up soccer and track and field.
“It would have been easy to just say, ‘I’m just going to sit this one out,’ ” Panthers’ football coach Jeff Schlieff said. “But he said, “What can I do to help my school and myself by working around this injury?’ That is pretty awesome.”
A senior this fall, Chlebeck returned to the football field and made an impression. He returned an interception for a touchdown in the season opener against Chaska.
“It was an awesome feeling,” said Chlebeck, a 5-9, 165-pound outside linebacker who also kicks field goals and extra points.
Chlebeck wrestled for Spring Lake Park as a seventh- and eighth-grader. Freshman year, he played football, qualified for the state wrestling tournament at 113 pounds and joined lacrosse. He assumed the trio of sports would become an annual cycle. Injury derailed those plans.
Sophomore year, Chlebeck played running back and suffered a left shoulder injury after being tackled hard to the ground. He began wearing a brace but periodic pain affected his ability to carry the ball as well as his varsity kicking duties.
An MRI after the season revealed a torn labrum. Chlebeck’s ensuing surgery and rehabilitation meant no winter wrestling or spring lacrosse.
“It was really hard,” Chlebeck said. “I remember hearing the news from my mom and I just wanted to start crying.”
Come spring, Chlebeck made his track and field debut. He contributed in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter sprints.
He mixed it up again as a junior that fall, swapping football for soccer and allowing his shoulder to fully heal and strengthen.
A pleasant season on the pitch left Chlebeck “on the edge” whether to choose soccer or football as a senior. Ultimately, football won out.
“Football is very big at Spring Lake Park,” Chlebeck said. “It’s a little more special so I was really excited to get back.”
Schlieff welcomed Chlebeck into the huddle, calling him “the silent-soldier type you love. You can’t have enough of those hardworking, team guys who never say anything negative.”
Schlieff recalled watching Chlebeck hit the weight room twice a day last spring, once with an elective class and once with lacrosse teammates. His reward came this fall; Chlebeck fulfilled a three-year goal to join the 230-pound power clean club.
“That’s Danny,” Schlieff said. “He’s going to do everything he can with every minute he has to better himself.”
Chlebeck downplayed his 45-yard interception return against Chaska as “kind of a Christmas gift. The ball went through the kid’s hands and straight into my lap.”
Schlieff demurred, saying the play required focus and athletic ability. Both player and coach agreed the play felt extra satisfying.
“It couldn’t have happened to a better kid,” Schlieff said. “We have a lot of kids with great work ethic but not many kids had to overcome what he did.”