To look at him now, you’d never know Chase Taulbee, a strapping, 6-foot-4, 255-pound left tackle for Clark County, had suffered a setback in a frightening accident that might have ended his football career two years ago.
Riding as a front passenger with some friends in a utility terrain vehicle on his family farm, the right front tire caught a hole at the edge of a ditch and sent the vehicle tumbling. He reached out and kept his then girlfriend from falling over him and under the machine.
But when it all stopped, Taulbee’s lower legs lay trapped underneath the roll cage.
His friends got out with some bruises and a few scrapes. Taulbee had broken his right fibula and left tibia. It was just a week after the spring practice game of his freshman year in which he’d already broken his left hand.
It has been a long road back to health. But now, as the Cardinals get ready to take on Bryan Station in a crucial Class 6A district matchup Friday night in Lexington, Taulbee is a team captain and key cog for Coach Oliver Lucas’ offense.
“There’s always two kinds of people,” Lucas said of Taulbee’s travails. “If you’re a hero, you’re a hero.”
“We had to have flipped more than once, because when we flipped we landed further away from where we started at,” Taulbee said of his fuzzy recollection of the crash. “We hit like a ditch while we were turning and it just started it.”
His mother was on the front porch and heard the accident. Some neighbors came out and helped get the UTV off of him.
“I got to the scene a few minutes later, and we all were so scared because he said he could not move anything below his waist,” his father Bill Taulbee said. “We are so thankful it was just bone breaks. No ligament damages.”
For all the worry, Chase remembers being more concerned about his new boots than himself.
“(The paramedics) were like, ‘We’re going to have to cut your boots off,’ and I was like, ‘No. You’re pulling them off. You’re going to have to pull them off,’” Chase said, laughing. It’s funny now. “Then they put me on this stretcher and (with) my legs broke, they were hanging off the stretcher. We were in a field, too, so the ambulance was bumpy.”
Looking back on it, Taulbee remembers feeling like he was ready for the pain.
“I was kind of calm because I kind of knew what it was like to break a bone before. The Friday before I had broken my hand, so I knew what the pain was like. I was kind of calm,” Taulbee said matter of factly, adding “I went into shock and I was shaking real bad.”
Out of commission
Taulbee spent three days at the University of Kentucky Hospital. Then he spent more than a month in a wheelchair that he could barely operate at first because of his broken hand. Then it was walking boots and crutches for another month before he could begin physical therapy just as football practice was starting in mid-July for his sophomore year.
“The worst part was the pain meds,” Taulbee said. “I wasn’t hungry and my dad said I lost a lot of weight because I just wasn’t eating.”
Taulbee went from 220 pounds down to 180 on his then 6-foot-1 frame.
“It was kind of depressing too, because you know you could be out playing football and helping out your team and stuff, but no, you’re laying in bed and you can’t really do anything. It’s not pleasant,” he said.
Taulbee got back into action and tried to contribute, but a stress fracture developed in one of his legs and that was it.
As a junior, Taulbee played tight end. He admitted some pain still in his right leg, but he got used to it. He remembers feeling timid and self-conscious about playing right up to the Lafayette game.
“This dude just cut my legs and I landed on my head, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m fine,” he remembered. “They’ve healed.”
As he gained confidence with each snap, he also grew 3 more inches and packed back on all the weight and then some.
“I had to eat. I had to gain my weight back and I worked out a lot,” he said. “It was a lot of eating, a lot of working out and a lot of sleeping.”
Prospective college coaches began suggesting Taulbee move over from tight end to the offensive line.
“It’s an incredible transformation,” Coach Lucas said. “Any time you have two broken legs, it takes a moment to recover, physically and mentally. Last year as a tight end he gave us his all … he never begged off of anything even when you could tell it was really killing him.
“Now, this year, he’s healthy, and he’s going all out. He’s been doing a hell of a job for us.”
Taulbee’s play has generated some college offers and a lot of interest from other schools, something he didn’t know was possible as a sophomore and certainly couldn’t hope for after the accident.
“But I knew I was just going to work harder, and if I get an offer and I go somewhere, then I do,” he said. “It wasn’t going to stop me and (I would) just never play football again. It made me work harder, almost. Maybe if I didn’t break my legs, I wouldn’t have any offers at all.”