SANTA CLARA Laurie Otten received the text from her son a day before the Senior Bowl: "I think I'm going to die from this."
Nineteen days later, Ryan Otten is very much alive. But the message he sent that night as he lay in a Mobile, Ala., hotel room wasn't much of an exaggeration.
Otten, who starred at Del Oro High School and San Jose State, went to the Senior Bowl intent on making his mark as one of the most versatile tight ends in the upcoming NFL draft. Instead, he showcased his resolve by not only dealing with a raging staph infection and a grotesque middle finger but not missing any snaps throughout the week.
Otten's ordeal began with the flu.
He was throwing up and feeling rotten as practices began Monday, Jan. 21. Other players got it, too, and sat out the sessions. Otten decided to push through.
"I felt like it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be out there at the Senior Bowl, and I wanted to try to battle through it," he said. "Things are going to happen getting sick or getting nicked. I wanted to show I was one of those guys who would keep grinding."
Then around midweek, Otten got a small cut on the tip of his left middle finger.
He hardly noticed it at first. But perhaps because his immune system already had been flattened by the flu, an infection quickly took hold. On Thursday, the finger was red and raw, and Otten was given oral antibiotics.
They weren't nearly powerful enough, and they didn't help his stomach, either.
While other players were replenishing with chicken breasts, pasta and protein shakes, Otten could only sip soup and eat applesauce. Neither stayed down for long, and he got weaker as the week went on.
CBS Sports draft analyst Rob Rang was on hand for the week of practices and remembers hearing other observers trashing the 6-foot-6 tight end.
"It surprised me," said Rang, who like the others wasn't aware of what Otten was going through. "I'd seen him on tape and thought he was a pretty good target. So I watched him a bit and thought maybe he's not as athletic as I thought he was."
On Friday, Otten's finger grew more swollen. By Saturday, the day of the game, it reached cartoonish proportions, and a doctor was called down to the field.
He told Otten he could go to the hospital and drain it with the help of a local anesthetic. Or he could do it right there on the field. Otten chose to stay put, and the doctor inserted a needle into the tip of his finger and drained it.
"At this point, it's like a big, old hole and it's all chewed up and looking real gross," Otten said. "So they bandaged it up, and I put my glove on and went out and played."
The low point occurred after the game.
Otten was back in his hotel room looking as pale as a bedsheet and running a fever. When a trainer checked him, she noticed red streaks going up his hand and arm. He was taken to a Mobile hospital and eventually diagnosed with a staph infection.
"Oh, man, this is not good," Otten remembers thinking. "I hope I don't lose an arm or my hand or fingers or something. When they told me it was a staph infection, I knew it was bad stuff."
Otten spent two nights in the hospital and flew to California on Monday thinking the worst was over.
He got an urgent call from the hospital in Alabama blood work showed that the infection had spread into his bloodstream, and he needed to go back to the hospital immediately. Otten was released after two more days, and he was told he had to return daily for two weeks to receive more treatment intravenously.
He's been doing that while training in Irvine. Otten lifts weights in the morning. He works on conditioning after lunch. And in the late afternoon, he drives to the hospital, where he has an IV attached to his arm and powerful antibiotics delivered into his body.
His final dose was Tuesday.
The latest round of antibiotics was tough on his stomach, too. He said he returned from the Senior Bowl 20 pounds lighter and has struggled to regain the weight. He intends to participate in most of the drills, such as the 40-yard dash, at next week's scouting combine in Indianapolis, but he only started training for those events this week.
Phil Savage, the former Cleveland Browns general manager who now runs the Senior Bowl, said teams will take into account Otten's ordeal and how he handled it when looking at his numbers.
"I think he'll get a lot of credit for that," Savage said. "There's no question that life in the NFL is not easy. It's a long, grueling season, and teams definitely take a player's temperament and toughness into consideration."
Laurie Otten also notes the text she received from her son was the only peep of discouragement she heard that week.
"He still hasn't complained about it," she said. "That's not in his DNA."