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Torn ACL: A bitter end to my time playing football

Me with my parents on Senior Night.

As a child, my parents had me play various sports to see if I liked any of them.  I remember playing soccer, baseball, and basketball, but none kept me engaged.  Soccer and baseball were too slow, and at the time, I was horrible at basketball.  However, one sport, football, immediately grabbed my attention.

In first grade, my mom signed me up for flag football.  At the time, I didn't know anything about the sport, I couldn't catch throw a ball, couldn't catch a ball, but I could run really fast.  In flag football at that age, the fastest kid won, and at the time, I was the fastest kid.  I would run to one sideline, turn around, go to the other, and then turn it up-field for an easy touchdown because no other kids could keep up.

I played flag football until the 3rd grade when one of my friends said I should play for the local junior-tackle football team, the Roscoe-Rockton Lions.  I asked my mom if I could play "real" football, and in short, she said, "No."

Understandably she was hesitant.  She was scared I would get hurt; however, by the summer after 4th grade, she changed her mind.

My first year of football wasn't good.  We only won one game, and all I did was tackle people because I wasn't coordinated enough to do anything on offense.  I still couldn't catch, and they didn't trust a new player to learn the playbook and run the football.

This all changed in 6th grade.  In 5th grade, I was fast but not anything special.  However, in the summer camp for 6th grade, I ran the fastest 40-yard dash on the team.  I asked my coach if I could start practicing as a running back, and he agreed.

I didn't play much at the beginning of the season, but when they finally let me play at the end, I scored seven touchdowns in three games.

The next year was even better.  I got the start from day one and scored 21 touchdowns in 9 games.

Me running the ball in 7th grade. I don't even own football gloves yet.

Similar to flag football, in 7th grade, the fastest kid won; however, this began to change in 8th grade.  Being the fastest kid wasn't enough anymore, and I struggled as the kids around me got bigger.  I only managed to score seven touchdowns.

My freshman year of high school wasn't any better.  I was still one of the fastest kids, but I still couldn't catch, was the smallest kid on the team, and still hadn't adjusted my game.  I did salvage two touchdowns out of garbage time that season, but it wasn't looking good.  I considered quitting after that season.

One of the two touchdowns I scored my freshman season.

Fortunately, my sophomore season was a big bounce-back year.  I stopped trying to make the big play every time I got the ball and slowly began adjusting my run-as-fast-as-you-can style into a more patient style where I would simply hide behind my bigger teammates until I saw a gap to run through.

I finally started to show glimpses of catching a football that year.  I played both slot receiver and running back and scored 11 touchdowns that year without even starting.  I would get subbed in when the coaches saw a good opportunity to get yards or score.

Me running the ball my sophomore season.

Going into my junior season, I was feeling good.  I was excited to play with the varsity players, especially after COVID made it seem like we wouldn't even get to have a season that year.  Unfortunately, early on in the pre-season, I dislocated my right shoulder ending the already shortened spring COVID football season.

X-ray of my dislocated shoulder.

Fortunately, my shoulder healed in time for the start of my senior season.  I was pumped for that season.  My shoulder was healthy, and I was hungrier than ever.  I was stronger and faster than I had ever been, and my catching was to the point where I would be screaming for a pass to me.

Similar to my sophomore season, I played both running back and slot receiver.  In the first game of the year against Harlem, I played a minor role, but the next week, I was told I would be taking on a bigger workload.  

I was practicing better than ever and was excited to show off the work I had been putting in.

Unfortunately, this would never come to be because on my second carry, as I got tackled, my left foot got stuck in the turf, and my ACL, MCL, and meniscus were torn.

Me on the sideline immediately after my injury.

I was fuming.  I didn't know how bad the injury was at first.  I got up, cussed, and walked off to the sideline as the trainer and my coaches came to ask how I was.

The trainer believed I sprained or tore my MCL because my knee was relatively stable.  My running back coach reassured me that this was the beginning of a long season and that I would be back in no time.

The next day my knee hurt so bad due to the inflammation; however, it quickly went down.  The problem was that after the swelling went down, my knee didn't show signs of getting better.

I got an MRI of my knee, and on my birthday, I received the news that my ACL, MCL, and meniscus were torn and that I most likely wouldn't be able to play sports for the rest of the year.

I told the doctor that our trainer believed it was just an MCL-related injury, and the doctor said it looked that way because my hamstrings were strong and holding my knee together for dear life.

I was crushed.  The practice and years of playing leading up to this season seemed like a waste.  I get to watch all my friends on the field without me, and it hurt my soul.  I knew this would be my last season, but for it to end like that was unbearable.

Surprisingly, my doctor said he would send me to physical therapy to strengthen and stabilize my knee as much as possible in a last-ditch effort to get back on the field.

I took the offer, desperate to play again, and told the team trainer what the doctor said.  He was shocked because he never knew of anyone doing physical therapy after tearing up a knee that badly in an attempt to come back the same season.

After that, I spent about eight weeks in physical therapy and returned to practice to begin the process of putting the pads on again.

When I started running at practice, my teammates and coaches looked like they were staring at a ghost.  They all knew the extent of my injuries, so to see me running and catching passes was unfathomable.

My trainer finally let me go full contact, and it was horrible.  I was so bad.  I couldn't run or hit the same, and I kept tweaking my knee even though it was braced and wrapped.  My coaches saw I was hurting, but I told them I wanted to play in Senior Night.

After what felt like the longest two weeks, hobbling around on ibuprofen, I made it to senior night.  I told my coach I wasn't sure if I would play because I tweaked my knee earlier that week, but the night of the game, I was named an honorary captain.  I wrapped my knee, put my brace on, and suited up.

Me running the ball during Senior Night.

My knee miraculously held up during a game when it couldn't hold up during practice.  I carried the ball seven times and didn't do as badly as I thought I would.  My trainer tried to pull me out after one drive, but I told him that my knee was fine and that I wanted one more drive.  He laughed and let me go in one more time.

After that, I practiced for one more week, was sidelined during the first round of the playoffs, and then tweaked my knee one last time while practicing for the second round.

I remember laying on the ground during practice as the trainer came to look at me, and I said with a laugh while grimacing in pain, "I'm done."

He agreed and said, " I don't know if it was grit, divine intervention, or dumb luck, but I didn't think you would last one week when you came back.  Senior Night was the cake, and everything after that was icing on top."

About three weeks later, I got ACL reconstruction surgery.

Me right before my surgery.

Looking back, my ACL tear ruined my senior year.  Although I'm thankful I got on the field one last time, it still robbed me of my season and destroyed my motivation for school that year.  My graduation requirements were met.  I was only in school to play sports and see friends.

Because of this, I missed more days during my senior year than all other days I missed during high school combined.  I hated people seeing me limp around all the time, and it was hard to make it from the parking lot and navigate my large school.  I was placed on an absence probation list and was forced to explain myself after being late or missing a class.

It feels so weird that I was still in high school only a year ago, just beginning to run again.  My senior year was honestly the worst year of my life due to my ACL and other reasons, but ultimately, I made it out.  Currently, my knee is healthy, and I'm stronger mentally and physically because of it.