MINNEAPOLIS — Lincoln Plsek watched the video one time but couldn’t bear to watch it again.
Like many others across the country, the Gophers sophomore tight end saw the footage of the fertilizer plant exploding in West, Texas, on Wednesday night. For Plsek, however, the tragedy hit close to home — his childhood home.
Plsek grew up in West, about 2 miles from where the explosion took place. His family and friends were not harmed in the explosion, but the blast reportedly injured more than 100 and killed several — although those numbers may continue to rise as the wreckage is sorted through in the next several days.
With his hometown on his mind, Plsek still took to the field Thursday with the rest of his University of Minnesota teammates.
“I tried to block it out,” Plsek said. “Before practice, I just told myself I’m going to dedicate this practice to everyone who got hurt and everyone who’s died.”
A fire at the plant eventually turned into a giant explosion. The blast blew out windows in houses and businesses in the tight-knit town of 2,800. Some buildings in the area were leveled. A nearby nursing home was evacuated.
Plsek had a tough time watching the coverage.
“I was shocked. I didn’t think anything like that could happen,” said Plsek, who added that a distant relative of his was killed in the explosion. “When something happens, you don’t ever expect it to be in your hometown. … It’s just a shocking feeling. My heart goes out to the families and everyone who lost lives and is injured.”
Plsek first heard of the news when a friend sent him a text message asking if his family was OK. At the time, Plsek merely assumed his friend wanted to catch up on how everything was going in general.
It didn’t take long, however, for reality of the situation to sink in.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, they’re fine.’ I didn’t even know about it,” Plsek said. “Right after that, I texted my mom and she wasn’t texting me back. Apparently, the phones were messed up. She ended up calling me, so I got to talk to her. She said they were OK. My brothers, they were all in the house. Our house wasn’t really affected, but around the area where it happened was pretty bad.”
Some people in West didn’t realize what had happened, Plsek said. That included family members, who initially thought the noises were thunder since storms were expected to hit the area.
Even though his mom’s house is 2 miles from the site of the blast, she and Plsek’s younger brothers were able to hear and feel the effects of the explosion.
“It felt like a big bomb had gone off,” Plsek said. “They didn’t know what to think of it.”
Plsek is a 6-foot-4, 265-pound tight end who played high school football at Reicher High School, a Catholic school in Waco about 20 miles from West. He appeared in eight games for the Gophers as a true freshman last season and had three catches for 22 yards. He said he plans to stay in Minnesota through spring football practices and remain here until the end of the semester before going home to help cleanup and rebuilding efforts.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill said he first heard of the news in West from his daughter, who was keeping up with everything on the Internet. Kill visited West when he recruited Plsek and met his family before Plsek committed to play for the Gophers.
“He’s a mature kid,” Kill said of Plsek. “To come all the way here and come to the University of Minnesota and play as a true freshman, I worried about him getting homesick and all that. From the day he’s walked in, he said Minnesota is his home. … We’ve had to lean on each other here a lot through a lot of things. I think that’s the great thing that playing football teaches you.”
Indeed, the Gophers program has gone through quite a bit in the last few years, including the death of former linebacker Gary Tinsley. So there was no question that Plsek’s teammates gave him their support as he dealt with the tragedy that struck his hometown less than 24 hours earlier.
“I had so many friends text me and tweet at me and ask me if everyone’s OK in my family,” Plsek said. “It was really comforting to know that.”