Originally posted on Fox Sports Kansas City
By SEAN KEELER  |  Last updated 8/8/13
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Brett Sterbach laughs about it now, or as much as you can laugh when your right thigh gets sliced up like a pan of Rice Krispies Treats. Time heals all wounds, eventually, even the flesh ones. As Sterbach moves from crutches to hobbling under his own power, all the dude wants is justice, swift and powerful. No, no. Scratch that. Justice and a copy of the full gas station surveillance video -- the director's cut, the PG-13 version, the version in which he goes all Steven Seagal. The version that includes the footage of him wrestling the knife from an alleged assailant, stabbing him and his pal with their own weapon, then chasing the pair from the gas station like a couple of frightened rabbits. "I don't really remember all of it; I'm just going by what the officer told me," says Sterbach, the former Shawnee Mission West running back and, evidently, the wrong fella to try and mug. "I was like, 'Let me see that, let me get a copy. I want to post that on Twitter or something.' "He said, 'Yeah, you got the guy who stabbed you in the stomach and shoulder.' I guess (with) the other guy, I did like a juke move, and I stabbed him five times in the shoulder and then I started chasing them." What was it John Lennon once said? Life is what happens when you're busy making plans, or something along those lines. On the evening of July 27, Sterbach, 18, carried the ball three times in the 2013 Kansas Shrine Bowl all-star game, the crowning moment -- and the final act -- of a solid prep career. And yet the most memorable run of the evening actually came a few hours afterward, at a Phillips 66 parking lot in southeastern Topeka, away from the crowds, away from sanity. Get the knife out of his hands. That was the first thought. Or the second, a few heartbeats after Dear Lord, I don't want to die. It's a bit hazy now, the details clouded by mad burst of adrenaline, more a series of violent snap shots than a coherent narrative. A Polaroid montage of bad. His parents had gone inside for snacks and drinks, something to tide everybody over for the drive back home from the Shrine game, which had been played earlier that night over at Washburn University in Topeka. An uncle even flew in from the east coast to see Brett, a 5-foot-7, 155-pound tailback, make his football farewell. Celebrations all around. So Sterbach is slumped in the backseat, on the phone, when someone knocks on the passenger-side back window. He's about 6-feet tall, wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled up. Another friend, roughly 5-9 with a green shirt and dark pants, trails him. Brett thinks the knock is from a family member, so he opens the car door, sight unseen. "Put the phone away," the hooded man says. The man in blue rips the door open and bundles himself in a corner of the backseat. Brett sees the knife. "Give me all your money. Give me everything you have," the hooded man continues. "What's going on?" "Give me ALL YOUR MONEY. Give me EVERYTHING YOU HAVE." "But ..." "I'm going to stab you." He puts down the phone, slowly. With one eye, Brett notices the shorter man creeping toward the car. With the other, he see the taller assailant's gaze following his phone hand. "That's when I knew," Sterbach says. "I had to fight back." The snapshots come fast and furious now, each image more violent than the one that preceded it. Sterbach rushes in and manages to push the man's knife hand down, away from his chest and abdomen. The blade plunges into his right thigh during the struggle. He barely feels it. The rest is a blur. He remembers acquiring the knife somehow -- "I might have pulled it out of my leg," Sterbach says -- and shoving his assailant outside the vehicle. He remembers the shorter fella hitting him repeatedly in the head. "According to the police officer," Sterbach's mother Julie says, "he did maneuvers that they would never expect out of someone his age." He juked. He dodged. He feinted. He jabbed. Police reports indicated that the hooded man likely suffered wounds to his left shoulder and torso, and the shorter man likely was stabbed in the left shoulder as well, perhaps as much as five times. The injured assailants fled. Despite bleeding from his upper leg, Sterbach -- an all-metro running back who collected 22 touchdowns last fall -- quickly gained ground. But when one of the men reached into a pocket as if about to pull out a gun, Sterbach slowed up, stopped, and hit the ground. The muggers escaped to a getaway truck, a blue Dodge Ram that was reportedly driven by a third man. Sterbach asked another patron, a woman filling up her car, to call 911. Fearing a return visit from his attackers -- maybe this time with friends -- he raced inside to find his family, still bleeding profusely, still holding onto a red-stained knife. More snapshots. Brett starts freaking out. The clerk behind the counter, presuming Brett, blade in hand, is there to rob the station, starts freaking out. Julie is pleading for the staffer to calm down and call for emergency help. After a few minutes, the police arrive. The muggers don't. "We're very thankful," Julie sighs, "that it wasn't any worse." It's Thursday, and Brett is walking again, albeit gingerly. There was a mad rush of interviews in the days after the incident, which was interesting, but no autograph-seekers, no vigilante-style fame. And his attackers are believed to still be at large, almost two weeks after the fact. "They deserve everything they got and I have absolutely no empathy for them," says Sterbach, who'll start classes as a freshman at the University of Kansas later this month. "What they were thinking, because I'm 5-7, they probably saw me in the back seat and saw my parents and uncle go inside and they thought, 'Oh, well, this is gonna be some easy money that I can get from this guy.' "I'm glad it was me and not my (younger) sister. I hope they learn that this is not something that they can do ... I hope they'll get caught so they'll get off the street. "And I'm glad I did (it), because they got everything they deserved, which is getting stabbed back. Which is sort of funny. They probably weren't expecting that at all. I don't know if the other guy had a weapon or not. He could've pulled a weapon out. They could've had a friend right around the corner, waiting there. So many things could have gone wrong. Once I decided to fight back, thank God -- I just thank God nothing did happen." And Sterbach wants to make three things perfectly clear: 1. He's not some thrill-seeking tough guy; 2. He's not the second coming of Dirty Harry; 3. He's not your hero. "Actually, my friend said that," Brett says. "I said, 'Come on, man, I'm nobody's hero but my own.' And if I was a hero, I wouldn't have gotten stabbed. They called me 'hero,' they called me a 'badass.' well, say what you want. I'm just lucky." Blessed, too. "The thing they have told us (is they're) 99 percent positive that it's gang-related," Julie says. "And what they do is they just pour alcohol on the wound and then stitch it up within their gang. "Although we joked that they probably got kicked out of the gang because they let a 5-7 kid beat up two of their thugs." Fourteen stitches. No regrets. You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com
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