August 7, 2022

Robert Killebrew’s journey from punitive linebacker to painkiller

On YouTube, there’s a Highlight Bundle featuring key pieces from the career of Texas linebacker Robert Killebrew, complete with a soundtrack from Papa Roach’s “Last Resort”. In the three-plus minutes of pre-HD footage halfway through, Killebrew is a bulldozer, plowing quarterbacks, demolishing punt protection units, and stopping ball carriers in their tracks. As violent as football already is, Killebrew, BS ’07, who played outside linebacker for the Longhorns from 2005 to 2007, appears to be playing a different and more intense version of the game. The only hit on his game was that he had sometimes too much envy of this contact, up to personal foul penalties of 15 yards.

This portrait is totally incongruous with today’s Robert Killebrew. Instead of being famous for taking running backs apart, he brings them together, increasing their mobility after injury and reducing pain. Killebrew is a renowned Central Texas physiotherapist who works with NFL players, NBA athletes, cheerleaders, professional baseball players and MMA fighters, among his list of nearly 50 weekly clients. .

Many college footballers find a new career path when the grill’s glory days are over. But they are still, unmistakably, football players. While Killebrew brings some intensity to his current occupation, he is different from most veterans in the sport in that he knew exactly when to go.

“It was then that I realized I had more to offer the world than my body and my ability to hit people hard,” he said on a video call in June. , at the end of a long day before returning home with his wife and two young people. girls. “I wasn’t good enough as a football player, but I was good enough as Robert. I had to dissociate myself between the two.

Killebrew grew up in Southern California, the son of a church pastor in Compton. At age 10, the family moved to Spring, Texas, and in college, someone asked him if he would like to play football. Unfamiliar with the sport, he says it was terrible at first.

“I was in Team C,” he says. “Not even Team B. I told my advisor I wanted to quit, and she said she would take me out of athletics.

But the advisor took another path. She called Killebrew’s mother, who replied that she hadn’t raised any dropouts. Quickly the players got injured and he transferred to Team B, then Team A, and he started entering the pitch in key situations. He had to work to stay on the field, so at the age of 13 he would get up at 6 a.m. to run, lift weights, and do homemade exercises in the garden.

“I was horrible,” Killebrew says, “but I worked on it. “

In high school, Killebrew was a defensive force. His junior year, his trainer told him he had a note in his locker. He thought he was in trouble. It was from Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops who was there to meet him.

“He said, ‘I think you can go to college without that,’ shook my hand and left. I didn’t even know it was a possibility. I was playing this to have fun with my friends and beat up some people, ”Killebrew says. By the end of high school he had 60 offers and his choice wherever he wanted to go.

He chose Texas for three reasons: to study, to compete for his job, and to be close to his family.

I felt like I was starting over once I got to Forty Acres. He couldn’t smash the depths chart as a redshirt rookie, even as a highly touted rookie, because in his new position as an outside linebacker he was sitting behind one of the best defensemen in the country: Derrick Johnson. During a practice, his trainer told him that they had wasted a purse on him. Instead of shrinking, he just worked harder.

Killebrew eventually stepped onto the pitch and never gave up his starting role. His teammates, especially fellow defenders like security Ishie Oduegwu, BS ’10, have turned to him because of his intensity and leadership on the pitch and his accessibility off the pitch.

“Being violent, we shared this tenacity, this nature. But he’s always been cool, leading by example, being a positive force, ”says Oduegwu. “I looked at him as a mentor… actually just more like a big brother.”

He won a national championship in Texas, and with his work ethic and natural talent, it looked like he would continue his career with the pros. Life had other plans.

“I was picked up in a limousine with champagne and dropped off on a school bus with a lunch bag. I thought I had succeeded. On the way home I thought, This is how they made your boy. “

Last November, Killebrew joined the Austin Physical Therapy team, founded by former Texas Longhorns coach Cullen Nigrini, MEd ’04, who nursed Killebrew during his playing days at the Forty Acres. It was a partnership they couldn’t have foreseen 15 years ago, especially because Killebrew had an arduous journey to his new path after graduating.

After failing to make the NFL after testing with the Bears, Texans and Seahawks, Killebrew retired to Southern California with his college sweetheart (now wife) Kristin, whom he met when ‘he was playing for Texas and she was a member of Texas Pom. In California, he has become, in his own words, “a surf bum”, working in construction to make ends meet. That’s when the CFL Calgary Stampeders called. Shortly after reaching Alberta, Canada, he realized he had come to the end of his playing days. He looked at himself in the mirror one day and said, “You’re not good enough.” It’s a tough realization for a towering national champion, an impending figure quarterbacks have seen in their nightmares. But once he realized his life didn’t have to end with the final whistle, he felt free. After a hamstring injury, the team let him go. He took the rejection as a positive omen.

“What we see as failures could save us,” Killebrew says. “The way I played, I’m 100% sure I would have had CTE, if I didn’t have it already. “

His father, in addition to being a pastor, was also an occupational therapist, which gave Killebrew an idea. He returned to Texas and applied to the Texas State Physiotherapy Program. Once again he was told he was not good enough.

“They looked at my transcript and started laughing,” Killebrew says. He enrolled at Austin Community College for two years, working in parallel as a hospital technician. He would get up at 5 a.m., work until 2 p.m., attend school from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and study until midnight every day.

“It was a lot,” Killebrew said, pausing to pull himself together. “I remember the [Texas State administrator’s] voice in my head, his face, every morning getting up, working, learning, studying in between.

Killebrew got straight A’s, took the GRE, and again applied to the State of Texas. He was turned away again. A California school called St. Augustine opened a campus in Austin, so Killebrew took his transcript there and was told to increase his GRE score and try again in another year. He waited, reapplied and was put on the waiting list.

“It was a huge success for me – one foot in the door,” he says. Shortly after, he was admitted. He was overwhelmed by the difficulty and competitiveness of the physiotherapy school, but he emptied it, and after graduating as a doctor of physiotherapy, he came into contact with former Texas backer Jeremy Hills. , who had started a successful personal training business. He asked Hills if he could work with his clients while they trained for the NFL Combine, free of charge. This led to a business partnership and friendship that continues to this day: Killebrew prepares the athletes for the pitch and Hills trains them.

“He’s my # 1 source. I trust him with any athlete I work with, ”Hills says. “The protocol is that before working with me, they must be authorized by him.”

At UT, Nigrini says, “Robert was known as a hard worker, in the weight room and on the court. He was full speed ahead in everything he did. Nigrini says Killebrew brings this intensity to physical therapy every day. When Killebrew started at APT in November, Nigrini’s goal was to get his new hire to work with 40 clients per week. Within months, Killebrew was already 45 years old on average.

“People love what he does,” says Nigrini. “It wasn’t because of the internet or the marketing. It’s because he was doing a good job.

While Killebrew has put all his heart and soul into becoming the best linebacker he can be, he says he enjoys his new life. Also, he always manages to connect with athletes like himself, helped by that tenacity he fostered and the credibility he brings to the job as a guy who has been there before.

“And I’m not in a booth,” he said with a smile. “I can help people get better. I am a servant. I couldn’t be happier.