Kyle Raunig

Northwest senior tight end Kyle Raunig caught his first career pass for a touchdown in the Bearcats' 45-35 win over Missouri Western Sept. 5.

Entering the first game of the 2017 season, Northwest football tight end Kyle Raunig had a lot to look forward to.

The Olathe, Kansas, native was entering his sophomore year with just three games as a redshirt freshman under his belt. He had yet to record a statistic for Northwest, but that seemed destined to change soon. Coach Rich Wright said Raunig figured to be a “decent part” of Northwest’s offense that season. Strength and Conditioning coach Joe Quinlin said the tight end was in the best shape of his collegiate career.

The 2017 season was supposed to be a breakout campaign for Raunig, who’s now a fifth-year senior. Instead, the year came with a physical breakdown. Raunig suffered a Maisonneuve fracture — a broken ankle, in layman’s terms — in Northwest’s season-opening victory over Emporia State Aug. 31, 2017.

The injury, with an average recovery time of six months, ended Raunig’s season. The time he lost to recovery as a sophomore made Raunig an afterthought in Northwest’s offense as a junior. He spent months rehabbing the injury, aching to get back on the field, to make a tangible contribution to Northwest.

“He was a determined kid,” Kelly Quinlin, Northwest’s head athletic trainer, said. “He came in and did the work every day. He was compliant; that’s probably one of the biggest things. … He was top-of-the-line when it came to that.”

The season Raunig spent rehabbing set the tight end back. He played in nine games in 2018 but failed to log a single catch. Entering this season, with three years of eligibility exhausted, Raunig had yet to record a statistic of merit. No catches, no yards, no touchdowns — just 13 games played with nothing to show for it.

Raunig was discouraged. But in the wake of poor results, Raunig continued to show up. He was as invested as anyone, Rich Wright said. He stayed after practice to catch passes, sophomore quarterback Braden Wright said. He put in the work.

In Northwest’s Week 1 win over Missouri Western, Raunig’s years of unrewarded work came to fruition. With the Bearcats leading the Griffons by 3 points late in the fourth quarter, Raunig etched his name onto a stat sheet for the first time since high school at St. Thomas Aquinas, catching a 3-yard touchdown pass from Braden Wright, one that put the game away for Northwest.

“It was awesome,” Raunig said. “It kinda felt like slow motion.”

For Raunig, the moment was a direct result of work. Rich Wright said the moment served as validation for the senior. He rehabbed for a full season and toiled in the lower rankings of the depth chart for another to be on the field for the play. He memorized the route and perfected the play in practice, Braden Wright said. Raunig was ready when his number was called.

“It was a huge moment in the game,” Braden Wright said. “I’m excited for him, and it was great.”

Raunig’s return to his once-prominent role was long and winding. He entered his freshman season at Northwest on the heels of a knee injury he suffered in high school. The 2017 campaign was supposed to offer a fresh start for the tight end. Instead, it was over nearly as soon as it started.

In the wake of his ankle injury, one that Kelly Quinlin called both “pretty severe” and “not common,” Raunig logged countless hours in the training room with Joe and Kelly Quinlin. He worked hard every day, they said, though he didn’t attempt to rush through his rehab.

“You could tell he was a little frustrated with how quick (the injury) happened,” Joe Quinlin said. “He always wanted more. He wasn’t trying to do any jumping ahead in the rehab, but he was always wanting to find ways to improve on things he could do.”

From his view at the helm of the program, Rich Wright saw much of the same.

He watched Raunig work in his first two seasons and rise to prominence in Northwest’s offense. He watched the tight end suffer his Week 1 injury in 2017. He watched Raunig toil in the training room and work his way back onto the field. He watched his playing time and impact plateau last season. And he watched Raunig persevere through it all. He watched him catch his first touchdown as a fifth-year player.

“Anytime you see somebody that’s investing so much of their time and energy into something and not getting anything from it, and watching them continue to come back is — those are some of my favorite stories,” Rich Wright said. “You want to see people like that succeed.”

Raunig said he worked through each round of adversity he faced because that’s what he came to Northwest to do, because it’s what his coaches asked of him and because that’s just who he is. He tries to bring positive energy to film and training sessions every day, he said. His efforts, of course, have paid off.

In a moment when less determined players would have given up, Raunig persisted. His doing so brought him to where he is now, a staple in Northwest’s offense and locker room as a pass-catcher and a leader. Two years later than he had hoped, Raunig is making his presence felt in Northwest’s vaunted offense.

“You grind every day,” Raunig said. “I knew this day would come where I’m contributing. It just feels good to be able to — because now, it’s on my back, instead of standing on the sidelines a lot of the time. A lot of these games that we win, I can contribute. So it feels a lot better.”

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