SEATTLE — There are two important rules for anyone who wants to play football. No. 1, pain is a given. And No. 2, excuses are taboo.
Understand this and you understand why University of Washington offensive guard Dexter Charles kept mum last season while playing with two bad shoulders.
“I was raised by a Marine Corps man and I grew up tough,” said Charles with a smile and a shrug. “He taught me the way and that’s how I learned.”
Even now, the UW junior is reluctant to say much about the shoulder injuries that caused him to miss part of a midseason game against Oregon, the next two games against Arizona State and California, and then the season-ending Fight Hunger Bowl against Brigham Young.
It is, however, hard to hide the evidence. Charles, a 2011 graduate of Stanwood High School, has a surgical scar on his right shoulder 6-7 inches in length. He has a similar scar of 3-4 inches on his left shoulder. He had surgery on his right shoulder in January, surgery on his left shoulder in February, and then a follow-up surgery on his right shoulder in March. The three operations kept him out of spring practice, and also kept him out of the weight room until almost summer.
Prodded to elaborate, Charles said only, “There were some bone things that were going on and I got them all fixed up.”
His shoulders started bothering him “pretty much in fall camp,” Charles said, and he ended up playing hurt for 10 of Washington’s 13 games.
“(Getting injured) is frustrating,” he admitted, “but you also have to come to the realization that this is the sport we play. You’re not going to get through it (totally) healthy. Nobody gets through it like that. … I did what I could (to keep playing). It was never easy, but I just tried to push through it, to play as hard as I could and to focus on what I had to do that day.”
Despite feeling pain in his shoulders every time he collided with an opponent — and for a lineman, that happens on every offensive snap — Charles played well enough to be an All-Pacific 12 Conference honorable mention selection. Gratifying as that was, “I felt like I could’ve done more if I was healthy,” he said.
When he returned to practice in fall camp, “it was just so good to play again,” he said. Though he has residual discomfort from scar tissue in his shoulders, “it just felt so good being out there that I wasn’t going to complain about it.”
By spending much of the summer in the weight room, Charles added more than 20 pounds to his frame from a year ago. He also grew an inch, putting him at 6 feet, 5 inches and 311 pounds as he heads into the new season.
And he returns with the same ferocious demeanor that marked his play the last two seasons.
“He’s very physical by nature,” said UW offensive line coach Chris Strausser. “He’s not just out there trying to block guys, he wants to dominate them. … Dexter really stands out in our group (of offensive linemen) in that he’s trying to bury you whenever he can.
“Physically, I’ve been impressed with what he can do,” Strausser added. “He’s a darned good player for us and we’re excited to see him play in a game.”
As he heads into a new season, Charles has the mindset “of waking up every morning and telling myself, ‘Look, you’re never going to get today back, so do everything you can and do it as well as you can.’ I’m trying to bring good energy (to workouts) and enjoy each moment because I’m never going to get this day back.
“I want to be the best player that I can be this season. That’s my true goal. And I want to do whatever I can do to help my group of five (on the offensive line) excel together so we can all do great. I’m more focused on getting all of us to one place than just (thinking about) myself. … We’re all veterans, we’ve all started together the last two years, and I think the sky’s the limit for us.”
After redshirting his first season at Washington, Charles has started virtually every game he has been healthy the last two years. He has two more seasons of eligibility, and after that he dreams of playing professionally.
“I grew up around football and I love it,” he said. “And when I was a little kid I’d think, ‘I want to play in the NFL.’ If I can make money playing a game, I’m going to play that game as long as I can.
“I live for football and that’s definitely my ultimate goal, to get (to the NFL). We’ll see how things shake out the next couple of years, but I’m going to do everything I can to get to that point.”