It was just a calendar year ago when Josiah Smith’s first season as a high school football player came to an end. That’s when the talented multi-positional sophomore suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in game four of the 2012 season.
It was an injury that devastated the young athlete and his Conway Christian teammates and coaches.
Smith’s recovery from that injury has been remarkably fast.
Barely six months after suffering the tear, Smith was back, not just walking or running a little bit, not even practicing, but playing baseball.
“When I had the surgery, they gave me a goal sheet,” Smith said. “I marked on there that I wanted to play baseball, and they said they would do their best to help me out.”
He hit leadoff, he pitched and he made an impact finishing with a .311 batting average.
Smith recalled vividly his first return to the diamond in a tournament at Southside Bee Branch playing against Lamar.
“The trainer said if I went to second base he was going to jerk me out,” Smith said. “I hit one over the right fielder’s head. I made a slow turn about 90 degrees and realized that fielder wasn’t going to get the ball, so I sprinted to second.”
They didn’t take him out immediately, but did so after drawing a walk in his next at-bat, although he was still allowed to pitch. That was when he knew he was going to be alright.
Smith said he was inspired by the near freakish recovery speed of Minnesota Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson, who suffered a similar injury and defied odds by returning to start in week one of the next NFL season, just nine months after having surgery to repair a complete tear of his ACL and MCL.
In an article that appeared in Bleacher Report last year, it clearly outlines what is entailed in the reconstruction of Peterson’s knee.
ACL reconstruction surgery involves taking a small piece of muscle tendon and using it to replace the torn ACL. The replacement muscle tendon, known as a “graft,” can come from the player’s hamstring muscle tendons, patellar tendon (the part of the knee a doctor hits with a reflex hammer) or even from a deceased donor.
One of the many moves that is made impossible by a torn ACL. Peterson had to demonstrate that he was able to perform this cut, as well as many other physical tasks, at an NFL-level, before returning to the field.
Following surgery, a player embarks on a long road of physical therapy and rehabilitation. Rehab allows the graft to slowly but surely be worked into place within the knee. It is not “supposed” to be there, so to speak, so progression to walking, running, sprinting and, eventually, cutting, must be done gradually as the body cements the graft into place.
This progression takes immense dedication and effort just to ensure return to normal activity.
Conway Christian head coach Michael Carter said Smith put forth that effort to get back to both the baseball diamond and the football field.
“He rehabbed like nobody’s business,” Carter said. “There was something inside himself to rehab, and work extremely hard to get back, and finish baseball and get into spring (football), and into the summer.”
Carter said Smith not only did what he was supposed to do in physical therapy, but came to school and “did extra stuff”.
“They would give me a sheet,” Smith said of his therapists, “that I could do (at home or at school).”
Every player progresses through rehab at a different rate. Peterson likely graduated from each level of therapy once he proved that his knee was ready rather than according to a strict schedule. While Smith worked tirelessly to get through the process and make his way back onto the playing field.
There was talk last season that Peterson could be the league’s MVP. He came back to come just nine yards short of the NFL’s single season rushing record.
Smith has come back to put up some gaudy numbers including 18 catches for 302 yards in four games.
But what could be the most remarkable is the fact that he may be a better kicker than he was last season. He’s hit four of his five field goals with his longest being from 40 yards. All four were against Poyen in week four. He’s also nailed 17 of 18 extra points including six in a blowout win over Mountain Pine last week.
Driving to Mississippi every other weekend to work individually with former Mississippi State kicker Brian Egan, who coincidentally suffered the same injury.
It’s been a long, strenuous road for Smith after suffering what could have been a both physically and mentally dibilatating injury. But Smith’s work ethic and mental toughness allowed him to travel that road faster than anyone believed he could — except Smith, of course.