Boone’s journey not over

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

Picture this.

You’re a college football player. It’s August. The football season is approaching and the anticipation is building.

All summer, you’ve risen early to lift weights and run laps in preparation. At night, you have dreams about running onto the field alongside your teammates as the crowd roars in approval. You picture yourself in the huddle listening to the quarterback bark orders. It’s like music to your ears.

And then the unthinkable happens. Only a few practices into the season, you plant your foot into the grass during a routine drill and hear a “big pop” from your knee. It’s unmistakable and immediately you think to yourself, “Oh no, not that. Anything but that.”

You’ve just torn your anterior cruciate ligament — more commonly known as the ACL. It’ll require four to 12 months of recovery. Just like that, your college football career is over. You already used your redshirt when you were a freshman and it’s unlikely you’ll be granted a sixth season by the NCAA.

Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it?

For U offensive tackle Jason Boone, it’s reality. Boone suffered a season-ending ACL injury a few weeks prior to the upcoming 2007 college football season.

“I definitely saw my career kind of flash before my eyes,” said Boone, who spent the first few days after the injury alone in his room. “I just wanted to be by myself.”

Bill Bean, head trainer of the U football team, knows how hard serious injuries can be on athletes. According to Bean, tearing an ACL can be similar to losing a loved one, but to a lesser extent.

“It’s a grieving process because (a player has) had something that has been taken away from them that is very, very important — their ability to participate,” Bean said.

From a competitive standpoint, Boone’s injury comes as a harsh blow to the Utes. But to Boone’s teammates — especially those who have suffered ACL injuries — the disappointment stings on a personal level.

Quarterback Brian Johnson, for one, knows all too well the toll such an injury can take on a person’s spirits. Johnson’s entire 2006 season was wiped out after he suffered an ACL tear in late 2005. He’ll make his return to the lineup when the Utes take on Oregon State on Aug. 30.

Johnson’s voice took on a somber tone when he talked about Boone, who would have spent the season blocking for Johnson if he’d been healthy.

“If anybody feels the pain of Jason Boone, I definitely feel it,” Johnson said. “I’ve been through the entire situation so I know how he feels, and he’s in my thoughts and prayers every night.”

Johnson, who has spoken with Boone and offered his support, can vividly recall the moment in which his own college football career was put on hold for nearly two calendar years.

“I just heard three pops and I knew once I couldn’t get up that it was something pretty serious because I tried to push myself back up and I just collapsed to the ground,” Johnson said. “It hurt. It hurt like nothing else.”

Johnson’s experience has given him insight into what awaits Boone.

“(It was) probably close to a year until I really got over it, and not just physically but mentally, as well,” Johnson said. “It takes a lot out of you mentally.”

For athletes who have dedicated their lives to sports, evidence of their own frailty can be difficult to accept.

“They’ll go through denial where they just don’t believe it’s happening. They’ll be pissed off, they’ll be angry, then they’ll cope, and then they’ll be sad and then they’ll be mad again,” Bean said.

Years ago, trainers would simply brace an athlete’s knee in hopes of stabilizing it, but over the years, it’s become apparent that quick fixes simply don’t work when it comes to the intricate workings of the knee, Bean said. Surgery is now common for athletes with ligament injuries.

Boone’s ACL tear is by far the most serious injury he’s suffered, but he isn’t giving up on his dream of playing in the NFL. He plans to get into shape and work his way onto an NFL squad.

While months of rehab may seem like a difficult weight to bear, athletes can take heart in the knowledge that ACL injuries aren’t devastating in the long run.

“This is not an injury that you can’t get better (from),” Bean said. “There are people playing in the NFL and NBA and they have reconstructed ACLs.”

Proof of ACL recovery will be evident later this month when Johnson takes the field on his own reconstructed knee. Perhaps Johnson’s comeback will offer inspiration to Boone, whose own rehabilitation journey has just begun.

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