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SDSU Linebacker Refuses To Let Age Stand in His Way

Times Staff Writer

When most football players turn 23, their college career is history.

Kris Jensen’s college career was just beginning at 23.

Jensen, now a 25-year-old San Diego State reserve linebacker, had only played as a high school freshman before 1983.

“We had a fledgling team and lost all of our games,” Jensen said. “I didn’t learn anything about football. I attended three different high schools and always said I would play at the next school. But I didn’t want to play on a team where I didn’t know anyone.”

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Jensen didn’t play on any teams for the next eight years. He started over again at Arizona’s Glendale Community College, playing well enough to earn a scholarship to SDSU.

“He started football at an awfully late time in life,” said Mike Smith, SDSU’s linebacker coach. “When he came in here, we knew he’d be a little raw and would take time to adjust to the system. You can see him getting a little more confident and comfortable with the system each week.

“He doesn’t lack intensity, hustle, strength or those type of things. He needs to master techniques. I’m sure it has been frustrating for him. He’s older and more mature, so he understands things won’t happen overnight.”

Jensen learned plenty about life his first three years after high school while serving in the Army. He eventually earned Green Beret status as a medic.

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After the Army, Jensen could have pursued the medical field. He said no thanks.

“There were opportunities, but I didn’t have the desire,” he said. “I think I lost it when I worked eight weeks in a hospital in Fort Polk, La. I tagged along with surgeons everyday and I didn’t see them receiving enjoyment from their profession any more. They were going through the motions, though there were some exceptions. I enjoyed it, but after my three years in the Army, I felt I had honored my commitment and it was time to go on.”

During Jensen’s second year in the Army, he committed himself to athletics. He went to scuba diving school, ran each day and even had a weight room set up in his barrack.

“I felt like an athlete then,” he said. “I started thinking I could play ball.”

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So when Jensen was finished with the Green Berets medic corp, he thought a different type of operation should be in order. He turned his thoughts to football, the sport he had given up eight years earlier.

For the first six months after his stint in the Army, Jensen went to Key West, Fla., for intense personal training. He lifted weights, played volleyball and read numerous football books to “figure out what it was all about.”

After the personal training period, he figured it was time to give football a try at age 22. Subsequently, he returned to his home state and walked on with the football team at Northern Arizona.

Jensen, who then weighed 200 pounds, was told he would be a “DB” (defensive back).

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“I had to ask my roommate, who was a trainer, what DB stood for,” Jensen said. Evidently, the football books in Florida had not been high on abbreviations.

However, Jensen never played a game for Northern Arizona. He said he was “ignored and mistreated” by coaches, so he quit before the season.

The next season, at age 23, he decided to try out at Glendale.

Why another start at such a late age?

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“It was one of those things where I never thought about why I did it,” he said. “I think I was seeking another challenge, just like the Army was a challenge. Once I got my Beret and reached my limit in the Army, I got out. Football was my next challenge. I had learned a lot about perseverance in the Army. Even though I was mistreated at Northern Arizona, I couldn’t give up.”

By the time Jensen enrolled at Glendale, his weight was up to 230 pounds. He was told he would be a linebacker.

As a 23-year-old freshman, he was second-string. His thoughts began to wander again.

“I started feeling like I had started a little late,” he said. “You start thinking your three years in the Army could’ve been better spent playing ball. Sometimes, I feel like I wasted my time there. I know I had wasted my time in high school.”

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When Jensen became a sophomore at Glendale, suddenly he gained playing time as a starter. His team won its first four games, but he suffered a season-ending knee ligament injury.

Even so, SDSU’s coaches had liked what they saw, and offered Jensen a scholarship. He accepted without hesitation.

Once Jensen arrived at SDSU, there was another roadblock--Jack Eaton was playing his outside linebacker position. So, 1985 has been another year of waiting for an aging college football player.

“Playing behind Jack Eaton has been disheartening,” Jensen said. “I can’t blame it on anything but my own lack of experience. Of course, I’m getting old now. I’ll play again next year, but how desirable will I be to NFL scouts being 26 years old?”

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The more immediate question concerns how valuable Jensen will be to SDSU. Though Jensen has played sparingly, Smith said the Aztecs will try to play him more in the final four games this season.

If there’s one thing Jensen has learned over the years, it’s perseverance.

Aztec Notes

Chris O’Brien’s Western Athletic Conference record field goal streak is still alive at 18 straight, it was announced Wednesday. O’Brien apparently had the streak snapped when he had a 43-yarder partially blocked due to a low center snap last Saturday at Air Force. The statistical change Wednesday was made in accordance with Section 10, Article 4 in the 1985 NCAA statistical rule book which reads: “The kicker is charged with a field goal attempt which is blocked. Exception: If in the judgment of the scorer an error in the center snap or placement of the ball by the holder is the direct cause of a blocked kick, the kicker shall not be charged with an attempt. Such an unsuccessful attempt is charged to the team rather than the kicker.” . . .Defensive lineman Chris Kilby’s son, William, died Monday at 12 days of age. William had been born 3 1/2 months early and weighed 1-pound, 11-ounces. His mother, Kathy, had been stabbed in the chest after attempting to halt an assailant in San Diego. William Kilby was born while his mother was hospitalized with chest wounds. Kathy Kilby has since returned home from the hospital. . . .Defensive lineman Craig Skaggs and his wife, Heidi, became the parents of a 10-pound, 13-ounce boy Sunday named Nathaniel Craig. . . .Webster Slaughter, SDSU’s leading receiver, is still questionable for Saturday’s game at Wyoming with a sprained ankle. Coach Doug Scovil said Slaughter has been riding an exercise bicycle and taking whirlpool treatments. Scovil is hopeful that Slaughter will begin practicing today. . . .Running back Corey Gilmore is doubtful for Saturday’s game with a pulled hamstring. The injury caused Gilmore to miss last week’s 31-10 loss against Air Force. . . .The Aztecs have finally decided to redshirt nose tackle Levi Esene, who has missed the last six games with a dislocated elbow.

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