CORVALLIS — Steven Christian stepped onto the Reser Stadium field and just savored the moment.
Then he focused on his task at hand.
Late in Oregon State's game against Wisconsin — the only one the Beavers have played — Christian, a reserve safety, dropped back into coverage and batted a pass away from a Wisconsin tight end.
Christian not only helped save the game, but that play signaled his return to the sport he loves.
Only a year ago, Christian was confined to a wheelchair for the second time in his life. He missed two years of playing due to two hip surgeries.
"Once you are in the wheelchair, you think, 'This sucks,'" Christian said. "You go from doing everything being a defensive back and running to being in a wheelchair struggling just to lift your leg."
Christian is a fifth-year senior but a first-year player for the Beavers after spending the past four seasons at Hawaii.
He redshirted in 2008, then suffered his first hip injury during training camp in 2009.
Christian said he went up to catch a ball and landed like usual, but then felt a pop in his hip.
He needed surgery and requested that work be done on both sides so the healthy hip wouldn't be weaker than the repaired one.
Doctors advised against the extra surgery, so he came back in 2010. He played in only three games before his fears became reality as his other hip started to hurt and needed surgery.
"It was a freak accident, but it happened twice," Christian said. "They didn't expect that to happen twice, but that's what happened."
Rehab was difficult both times. It took about four months for him to be able to walk again. Then he had to rush to get back into shape running.
That's when it became painful, pushing himself to be ready for the next season.
"I had to do soul searching twice," Christian said. "The second time I tried to make that process quicker. The first time was rough. I wasn't used to being off my feet."
Christian's desire to play again kept him going. He was an all-purpose standout out of Kennedy High in Sacramento, Calif., and felt he could contribute if healthy.
While he was going through the rehab he grew homesick because he couldn't play. Plane tickets to the mainland were not cheap, so he spent his winter breaks in the wheelchair away from his family.
However, that allowed him a chance to dedicate time to his academics and he graduated with a degree in less than four years.
It also allowed him to transfer to another four-year college with a master's degree program that Hawaii didn't offer so he could play right away without sitting out a year.
Christian chose OSU because its interdisciplinary studies program offers various fields of study, and he was familiar with the Beavers.
He had attended summer camps at OSU growing up so he already knew some of the coaches.
Christian may also be a good acquisition for the Beavers if he continues to develop. Since he lost two full years to injury, he plans to ask the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility in 2013.
"I was looking for the best place that's close to home and I was tired of being in Hawaii — a lot of little things added up," Christian said. "And being here (closer to home) took a strain off of me and my family."
Christian joined the Beavers as a cornerback, but defensive coordinator Mark Banker moved him to safety to fill out the depth chart. Since he's an experienced defensive back in terms of studying college level schemes, he has adapted quickly.
"He's an extremely enthusiastic young man," Banker said. "He has a background. It's not like he's a rookie emotionally. For him, it's truly concentration on the scheme."
Christian is used in the nickel and dime packages when extra defensive backs are on the field for passing downs.
When the Beavers needed to stop Wisconsin's late-game rally, Christian was called on to play.
Banker remembers his pass breakup and was impressed how even though he was late on coverage, he knew where to go and played fast.
"I've never played at safety before, and never in a big full stadium like that," Christian said. "And being gone for two years, I don't want to say it was a surreal moment, but I didn't expect it to be that big of moment for me. Of course I was nervous, but I didn't let that affect me."