Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen has been growing a beard all season, the length of which has earned him the nickname “Jesus” by some of his teammates. Nick Sundberg told me once that seeing Paulsen’s mass of facial hair makes him laugh.
But Paulsen isn’t doing it for laughs, or luck, or silly nicknames. He’s is growing out his beard in honor of his college roommate and former teammate at UCLA, Nick Ekbatani.
In July, Ekbatani was riding his motorcycle north on Pacific Coast Highway in Redondo Beach, when a taxi made a left turn in his path and collided with his bike. The former lineman survived the accident, but his left leg did not. His femur was crushed, his knee cap shattered, and his foot and ankle were beyond repair. Doctors had to amputate his leg at mid-calf.
“One of the things I do every season is grow a beard and kinda be gross,” Paulsen told me. “But this season I’m growing it out for my friend and I’m not going to shave it until he can walk again. It’s kind of a daily reminder, when I look in the mirror, of what he’s going through.”
Shortly after the accident Paulsen called Ekbatani, and during the course of the conversation, told him of his symbolic facial hair.
“The thing about Logan, he is about as perfect a human being as you could ask for,” Ekbatani told me. “That’s Logan for you. He has always been there for me. It goes deeper than the beard. He cares so much, and he’s always there for me and I don’t know what I would without him.”
Ekbatani, who suffered some head trauma and doesn’t remember the accident, also told me that beards are something he and Paulsen bonded over as roommates.
“He and I were always big into growing our beards out,” he said. “At one time we both had the craziest beards and longest hair. It makes me laugh to think he’s doing it now. To be honest, it’s going to be more of a pain for his wife than it is for Logan. Now I need to worry about what he’s putting poor Kelly through.”
Ekbatani’s doctors have been waiting for his bones to heal enough to bear his body weight and for his muscular leg to shrink down enough to properly fit a prosthesis. He finally got the green light yesterday, and will start the process of learning how to use his new limb once he has it. He figures it will take at least two months before he’s mobile, so Paulsen has a lot more beard growing to do.
Ekbatani says he wants to use his new station in life to inspire others. Training for the Paralympics, and even competing against able-bodied runnners like Oscar Pistorius, are goals of his. Unfortunately, the running blades that would allow him to do that cost upward of $100,000.
His friends have set up a fund to help out, and Paulsen says that he has no doubts he’ll be watching his former teammate compete again.
“Nick is the most positive person,” he said. “If anyone can do it, he can.”