The inevitable shoulder surgery can wait.
And because new Western Michigan University football coach P.J. Fleck understands a tough kid's tough spot, Zach Novoselsky decided he didn't need to wait any longer to make a verbal commitment to the Mid-American Conference school.
Stevenson's thick offensive tackle became the second player from his high school team this week to accept a Division I football scholarship. Novoselsky will team with wide receiver/safety Matt Morrissey (Michigan State) this fall to give the Patriots a pair of D-I-bound seniors on the offensive side of the ball.
Like Morrissey (son of Jim), Novoselsky's dad, Brent, played in the NFL, including one season with the Bears.
"After sitting down with my family, talking to some people who have been through the whole (recruiting) process with me, thinking about where I'd fit best and talking to people who have more experience than me, I decided that I'd feel more comfortable at Western Michigan," said Novoselsky, the middle of three children of Brent and Andrea.
"BIG (shoutout) to one of the greatest kids I've ever known for committing to WMU! Congrats big fella!!" Matt Morrissey tweeted Thursday.
Fleck might deserve the most credit for making the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Novoselsky want to continue his football career in Kalamazoo.
Fleck was hired last December to take over a Broncos team that went just 4-8 last season. A former star wide receiver for Kaneland and Northern Illinois, where he also coached, Fleck spent last fall as the receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"Even when he doesn't have much time, he makes time," Novoselsky said. "He talked to me a lot at the end of this process. That was big to see that the coach really cares about you."
Novoselsky was candid with Fleck about his wounded right shoulder, which he aggravated at a football showcase just before the start of the high school baseball season. Novoselsky served as Stevenson's designated hitter only but still put together an all-area campaign, leading the team in batting average (.450) and RBI (32). He said he has a torn right labrum.
"It shouldn't be an issue in the future because somewhere along the line I'm going to have surgery," Novoselsky said.
The plan for the big athlete is to have surgery sometime between the end of the high school football season and the start of his career at Western Michigan. He discussed the situation with Fleck.
"I brought it up to him and he said, 'I've had five shoulder surgeries and that's what knocked me out of the NFL (after two seasons with the Patriots),' " Novoselsky said.
"He just said, 'We'll get through it together.' That just cemented that he cares about me. He was more than a coach. He was more family than coach. I feel that's the kind of (culture) that they're building around that campus and that community -- that the football team is more of a family. That's one of the things that attracted me to their program."
While Miami (Ohio), Bowling Green, Southern Illinois, Toledo, Wyoming, North Dakota, Fordham and Bryant University in Rhode Island also offered scholarships to Novoselsky, he understands if schools were scared off because of his shoulder history.
"I think they would be," Novoselsky said. "I talked to a couple of coaches about that. It's definitely something that they feared because they'd (prefer to) take a healthy guy over a guy who's had injuries in the past. Coach Fleck was honest with me when talking about it. That made me feel comfortable that I was making the right decision to the right school."
A postseason call-up as a freshman -- his first year of organized football -- Novoselsky started on varsity as a blocking tight end his sophomore year. He put together an all-area season at left tackle last fall. He figures to wear a recently fitted shoulder harness during the upcoming season and doesn't plan on it negatively affecting his play.
"I've worn the harness throughout all of summer camp, and there have been no problems (with the shoulder)," Novoselsky said. "I was actually worried when I was getting the harness. I didn't know how it was going affect me. But after playing with it in camp, the only thing the harness really does is keep my arms from going over my head. That's how I hurt it. As long as (the harness) does that and doesn't take away from any of the punch or other stuff with my arm, it really doesn't affect my play."
Ultimately, Novoselsky chose Western Michigan because he developed a bond and trust with Fleck.
"It's something special," Novoselsky said. "It doesn't happen a lot in the recruiting process."
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