BOONE — It was on a routine pass play in Watauga football’s April 16 playoff game against Dudley when a defender rolled into Carter Everett’s right leg.
Getting up after the play, the then-junior noticed some pain in his right knee.
“It did hurt a decent amount, but I was able to walk off the field,” Everett said. “I was kind of hoping it wasn’t anything serious and was jogging down the sideline.”
Everett wanted to go back in the game, but knew pretty quickly that he was not going to be able to as he felt the lack of stability in his knee. Playing kicker, linebacker and running back, Everett would have at-best been compromised, and could have likely made the injury worse.
Everett was forced to watch from the sidelines as the Pioneers’ season ended, but his offseason would not be spent relaxing and doing standard routines.
He had torn his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the play. The Boogeyman of sports injuries, a torn ACL has brought down athletes such as NFL stars Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson and Liverpool center back Virgil Van Dijk.
However, what was once the injury that ended NFL hall of famer Gale Sayers’ career at 28 has become less of a career-killer through advancements in medicine. While a devastating injury that takes months to fully recover, Everett avoided calamity with no damage to his meniscus or other ligaments.
Eleven days after the game, Everett had surgery to repair the tear. Step one of recovery was complete, and Everett got into physical therapy and rehabbing the knee as soon as he could.
“I’m rehabbing with Breakthrough, which is inside of (Kidd Brewer Stadium),” Everett said. “Everything’s been going great; I’ve been going to them twice a week since it happened. My first PT appointment was two days post-surgery, so I’ve been attacking it since it happened.”
Five weeks after the surgery, Everett already had full flexion and range, which let him start to regain the muscle mass that he lost while training for stability.
“I’m trying to get as much done as I can, but I’m not trying to rush anything,” Everett said. “Once you pick up steam, you keep getting milestones. Once I got to 90 degrees of flexion, then I could easily get to 100 the next PT session, then get to 120 and then 135, which is full range of motion. Once you get there, then it’s the new challenge of strength training. You start with 30 pounds on leg press and then the next time you can get 50 and then 70. So you just keep working up to different goals and it motivates me to have different goals, and get to them quickly.”
Working with Dr. Benjamin Parker at AppOrtho, a goal was set for Everett to be back kicking six months post-surgery.
“(My return) would be mid-October, which would leave me three or so games left of our regular season, and then whatever postseason we get into,” Everett said. “The physical therapist has been keeping me focused and not looking into the future quite yet, but I think I’m a little bit ahead of schedule, so hopefully we can get another game or two in there.”
When he does return, Everett will be limited to kicking. As his right leg is his dominant, kicking leg, it’s likely best he hadn’t injured his left knee. Had he injured his left knee, his plant leg would have been compromised.
“In the motion of kicking, you use your plant leg to torque off of,” Everett said. “You put a lot of stress and pressure onto that leg when you go to load for a kick.”
While it could have been worse, it was still a torn ACL, which means it will not be as simple as healing then kicking.
“I may have gotten a little lucky there that (the injury) was in my kicking leg, but it’ll still affect me later with not having the strength I had before,” Everett said. “But, that’s why I’m at PT, trying to get back that strength as soon as possible so there’s no drop off in what I had before.”
At the same time, Everett has to get back into the motion of kicking, regaining the muscle memory all while still trying to improve. However, there are still steps to get through before Everett tries field goals from 40 yards out.
“We recently got into punting with a NERF football and not full effort, just to get back to that motion,” Everett said, describing the power he can put into the ball around 50 percent. “We do a small amount of kicking with no drawback, just point of contact and follow through.”
Heading into his senior year, Everett has been juggling recovery and looking to his future, attending kicking camps and even an unofficial visit to the University of Louisville.
“I’ve been going to a couple of college camps over the summer just to talk to coaches and be in the atmosphere,” Everett said. “Watching everybody kick has been driving me a little crazy.”
Everett has also been going to team workouts, supporting his teammates who have stuck with him through the injury.
“They’ve helped with everything. We’ve had summer workouts and so I’ve been going to those not really being able to do much, just kind of being there,” Everett said. “When we go lift, they’ll ask what I can do so they can make stuff for me to help me lift and work out with them just so I can be with the team.”
When he returns to the field, Everett will have missed most of his senior year, but what matters most to him is that he will be back.
“It’s disappointing, especially not being able to play running back or linebacker at all, but there’s not much that I could have done about it,” Everett said. “So I just kind of move on and take what I can get. Kicking is better than nothing, so I’m glad I can get back for at least part of the season and not miss the whole thing.”
While Everett has been focused on not getting ahead of himself in his recovery, he can not help but look forward to getting back on the field with his teammates and helping the Pioneers win.
“I’ll have thought about everything that I’ve done post-injury and leading up to (playing again),” Everett said. “It’ll feel like I’ve kind of got to the final goal of getting back. Everything that I’ve put into it will come to fruition.”
Everett said the goal is still to play at a higher level, using his injury as motivation.
“Obviously this whole situation has thrown a curveball into it,” Everett said. “I felt like I could use that as something that sets me apart from other people. They haven’t had to go through what I have. So if I can get through this and then prove that I’m still at a high level, then I feel like that’s when I can play somewhere. That’s the goal and I’ll keep working till it’s there.”
The Pioneers are slated to start their regular season on Aug. 20 against TC Roberson at home.