Tonawanda News — Right off the bat, Nehemiah Stone knew it was bad.
Participating in a skills camp in early August just a few short weeks before high school practices began, the junior North Tonawanda running took a hit and fell awkwardly — and the rest of the memory was washed out in a blur of pain.
“I was running the ball on a trap play. I made a cut but then got hit in the back and the knee gave out. It was easily the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Stone said.
He had an MRI done on his left knee and discovered that he had suffered a partially torn ACL.
And after already posting two standout seasons with the Lumberjack varsity football squad, Stone abruptly thought he could kiss his junior season goodbye.
“I was devastated,” he said. “It was the worst thing ever, knowing that I couldn’t be out there with my team and play. I knew it was bad, but I wanted to play no matter what.”
So the 5-foot-8, 175-pound all-purpose player tried to gut it out once practice began a few weeks later.
But it didn’t last.
“He’s such a competitor,” coach Tony Truilizio said. “He thought he’d be fine because it started to feel better. Then we saw him get hit, and he buckled and said he was done.”
So the Lumberjacks opened the season without their star running back, linebacker and return man.
The results were not pretty as NT lost three straight games after beating Lake Shore in Week One of the season — all but ending any chance to make the sectional playoffs.
“Having to watch was horrible — especially those first three games that we lost,” Stone said. “I’m not saying we would have won if I had played, but it was tough to see.”
Stone was now faced with the decision of whether or not to have surgery to repair the ligament.
He said he was told that surgery would repair the damage, but the knee wouldn’t be as strong as it used to be. Not having surgery would take longer to heal, but it would grow back as strong as ever, he said.
And if he didn’t have surgery, he could theoretically play before the end of the season.
It was not a decision lightly made; the doctors told him there would be a risk of tearing the ligament further – although they said he could play.
Stone’s parents also gave their permission for him to play, so Truilizio decided to see how the rehab went.
“The parents were on board with the decision, and I certainly wasn’t going to bypass their wishes,” Truilizio said.
So after intensive physical therapy and acquiring a durable brace, Stone was able to rejoin the team.
The Jacks eased him back into the lineup, playing him only on the defensive side of the ball — but he still wound up leading the team in tackles.
“I didn’t know what to expect, or how much he could really do,” said Truilizio, who had a similar injury himself. “We’ve limited his playing time – to rush him back wouldn’t do anyone any good, him most of all. But he’s been more of an asset in every game.”
While he won’t get a shot at the playoffs this year, Stone’s consolation is this weekend’s rivalry game against Tonawanda.
And he relishes the opportunity to play in the game, after fearing that he’d lost that chance.
“It’s good to be back with the team,” Stone said. “Now I can’t wait to get out there — can’t wait to beat Tonawanda.”