CDS' Lewis Battles His Way Back to the Gridiron
Carrollwood Day School's senior Nate Lewis had no easy road getting ready for the 2012 season.
It's Sept. 30, 2011.
The sun is pounding mercilessly on two teams that have duked it out for the last two hours. The CDS Patriots are trying to hold on to a big lead they had early in the game, but guys are dropping like flies. Cramps and rampant fatigue plauge both teams as they reach deep into their already thin lineups to fill holes. Junior athlete Nate Lewis is tracking a Farragut ball-carrier on a run play. The back makes a move to the outside, Lewis follows. The back makes a quick cut back to the inside.
"I tried to follow him but my knee just gave out," Lewis recalled. "I didn't think it was that bad at first because the pain was low."
The trainers held Lewis out of the rest of the game and continued to monitor him.
"I was pretty emotional about being held out," Lewis said.
The Patriots would forfeit their lead and fall 49-41 to the Blue Jackets, crushing their hopes for winning a district title.
And things would get even worse for Lewis.
He took a physical on the knee two weeks later and seemed to pass it. Then he injured the knee again and that's when it was time to get an MRI. The MRI revealed a "large chunk" (70%) of Lewis' ACL was missing as well as a deep bone bruise. This effectively ended Lewis' 2011 season and junior year.
Fast forward to Aug. 31, 2012.
Lewis pulls the crisp, fresh, cardinal-red, CDS jersey over his shoulderpads and goes out and plays in his first game in 10 months. He catches two passes for 35 yards and makes four solo tackles on defense. Not mind blowing numbers by any means but simply playing in a game was something Lewis had very real doubts about, just a few months before.
Lewis had a cadaver's ACL installed as a replacement for his on Dec. 19, 2011. He recalls not being able to walk for the first week, relegated to strapping himself into a perceived torture device, which was really a machine designed to increase range of motion; a CPM (continuous passive motion) machine.
"I used to hate that machine," Lewis said.
From there the task for Lewis was just to learn to walk normal again, without a limp. Eventually, he straightened out his walk, he got working on a tread mill. Then he set to building up the leg muscles that weakend during rehabilitation. The doctor released him to the team on April 20; Lewis remembers all of these dates from the top of his head. He got back working with the team again over the summer, still not fully participating but out there nonetheless.
On July 19, Lewis ran a comeback route in practice and the knee gave out again. This time it was just a sprain but the setback was almost enough to compell Lewis to hang it up.
"I started to think, 'what if I don't play this season?'," Lewis said. "I started to get depressed, I felt like I'd let a lot of people down."
Into the second week of fall football practice, Lewis was still on the sideline, "still healing."
"I'm thinking to myself, 'when is this gonna get better?'," Lewis said. "I was in doubt, a lot of doubt."
Lewis stayed at it.
"I've never seen anyone work so hard on their knee," head coach Lane McLaughlin said.
And he stayed at it, working in the weight room, working back into making cuts and stopping. And he took the field last week for the Patriots starting on offense and defense.
"My confidence got a lot better with that first game," Lewis said. "It's still not where it needs to be, it could be but the more reps I get the more confidence builds."
Lewis followed up his first start of 2012 with another start last Friday against district rival Keswick Christian. On the third play from scrimmage, Lewis laid a pancake block that sprung fellow senior Robert Davis for a 62-yard score and set the tone for the rest of the game. Lewis found the endzone on a short touchdown catch later in the game as the Patriots went on to win 48-0.
He still plays wearing a brace on that left knee and hates it because it hinders his movement and bruises his shin and calf. However, he is gradually getting past the need to wear the brace and when it does finally come off, so should his full confidence return.
"He's actually gained a step," McLaughlin said. "Most people lose a step when they come off an ACL injury, he seems to have gained a step."
Lewis jokes that he got Coach McLaughlin's ACL, and that's why he's faster.
"Nate is a clutch player," McLaughlin said. "He's the best tackler on the team, he's sure-handed, he gives us an emotional lift, he can play any skill position."