courage of his co-captain, Brian Calderone.
Courtesy of Dan Whalen
Dan Whalen, an SI summer intern, is the starting quarterback for Division III Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He will blog about life in D-III every week.
We call him "Freak." To everyone else he is simply Brian. There aren't too many guys out there who can play football without an ACL in one of his knees. There are even less who can play football at the level Brian Calderone does with one ACL.
It was Week 1, early in the first quarter, when something went wrong. The play was over and our sideline went silent. One of my teammates was lying in a heap in the backfield near the far end zone. I remember scanning the field, counting white jerseys, searching in panic for No. 97. I didn't find it until my worst fear became a reality. Brian was on the ground grasping his left knee. Even though we were in control of the game, we all were terrified.
An engineering major, this is Brian's fifth year. He transferred from Michigan Tech -- a school that is 14 hours away from his Broadview Heights, Ohio, home -- after his freshman year. He said he left there because it snowed "10 months out of the year."
In one of my posts earlier this season, I talked about Brian, a fellow co-captain and preseason All-America defensive end, and easily the best person to follow if you're looking for a leader-by-example. He's the one who gives the Rudy-esque effort throughout practice -- you know, treating every play like it's the Superbowl. He is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds and he gets everything out of his body and talent.
Two weeks after tearing his ACL, he was back on the field, braced up and moving as fast as ever. The doctors said they couldn't tell anything was wrong without the MRI since the rest of his knee was so stable. So out he went, like nothing happened, treating every day as the one before. Three weeks later, he was pursuing a tackle when we saw the same horrific sight. He was lying in the white paint that runs along the coaching box on our sideline. Our All-American was All-human, and his knee was no exception. Sidelined again. But even through the injury, he has still worn his jersey to every game and walked out to every coin toss at my side. He was still a leader.
Beyond the torn ACL, he has no cartilage left, and he tore his meniscus as well, along with straining one or more of his other ligaments. He had surgery to remove the meniscus and rested (slightly) to regain strength in the other ligaments.
Two days after the surgery, he was off crutches and walking almost normally. Then he was jogging. Then he threw on a practice jersey and was doing light drills. Now, he's been suited up all week, and just like that, he's going to play. Our final regular season game, our conference championship, with our playoff lives on the line. No. 97 is standing tall, aching for at least one more week of football before he hands in all his gear for the last time.
And he's doing it on one leg.