PROVO — Call this the Thanksgiving recovery story of Taysom Hill.
If a guy could be grateful and somehow find blessings after getting unnecessarily seriously hurt, this BYU freshman quarterback is your man.
In the closing seconds of BYU's 6-3 win over Utah State in LaVell Edwards Stadium the night of Oct. 5, Hill inexplicably ran a needless play in carrying the ball through the line of scrimmage. In a collision with an Aggie defender, Hill hyper-extended his left knee, ending his season.
In the hours following the game, after a manual examination by doctors, the diagnosis was grim. The next day, an MRI confirmed that early diagnosis, that he had serious lateral knee damage. Specifically, the MRI report said he had a torn anterior cruciate ligament, had torn a lateral and a collateral ligament right off the bone and had torn one of the hamstring tendons off its seating on the leg bone with a deep ligament complex also detaching off bone.
"It looked like it had come off the bone in a sleeve altogether, and we had a couple of orthopedic surgeons look at the MRI and they all concurred, diagnosing the exact same thing," according to BYU football head trainer Jeff Hurst.
Doctors then told Hill the news that he'd have surgery; they explained the recovery time would be 6-to-8 months and this serious injury would take "an extensive recovery," and long rehab.
Hurst describes Hill as devastated at the news. His dreams and hard work vaporized with a few words and seconds in a game. It was Hurst's job to keep him positive and engaged.
With most knee injuries, when there is swelling and fluid involved, nobody can be exact in a diagnosis until the joint is actually opened up and inspected with human eyes. MRI revelations have been known to be inconclusive evidence of actual damage inside a body.
Needless to say, Hill, a faithful, God-fearing athlete, who'd just spent two years serving a mission to Sydney, filled his prayers with hope. Those around him did likewise, rallying to his side with love, support, and unfettered faith.
As Idaho's 5A Player of the Year out of Pocatello, and one of the top 30 quarterbacks in the country out of high school, Hill committed to Jim Harbaugh at Stanford but decided to enroll at BYU after his return from mission service last January. Hill had worked hard all winter, spring and summer to find a role on BYU's team.
His efforts brought him to the point that he got his chance this fall. Hill almost led BYU to a comeback win at Boise State. He then directed the Cougars to wins over WAC champion and now ranked Utah State and Hawaii. He was 2-0 as a starter, relieving senior Riley Nelson, who hurt his back.
Things looked bright for Hill that night against the Aggies. He'd completed 24 of 36 passes for 235 yards and the game's only touchdown. He carried the ball 19 times for 80 yards with a long run of 17 yards. He'd averaged 4.2 yards per carry. It was his 19th ill-fated run that everyone in the program wanted back.
When doctors opened up Hill's knee days after his injury, they were pleased to find many aspects of the manual examination and MRI wrong.
Hill's lateral collateral ligament and ACL were intact and were not torn away from the bone, said Hurst.
"So that did not need to be repaired and reattached. They also found the deep ligament complex was still attached but was inflamed and sore. As they got in there and inspected all the structural ligaments in the knee, they found his ACL and PCL were both intact and there was no internal de-arrangement of those major ligaments of the knee, which was really good news."
What doctors did find, which was his major issue, was a detachment of the hamstring muscle head from the fibular bone.
Explains Hurst, "So, they were able to reattach that hamstring to the bone. They did not have to do any reconstruction of any of the ligaments, they didn't have to do any significant structural reattaching or repair of any ligaments in his knee. It became an issue of re-attaching the muscle to the bone.
"They were able to reattach the biceps tendons back to where they normally live and we felt very blessed to have a great result and that outcome. Now, he needs to regain range of motion and strength in the muscles of that leg to recover."
This is significantly different than the damage originally diagnosed that fateful weekend. Hill's recovery is expected to be 50 percent quicker than originally diagnosed. Major ACL surgery takes eight to 10 months to recover; Hill's injury is half that, in the four to five month range with five months pushing it. Five months from early October 2012 is early March 2013, in line with BYU's spring practice, which usually gets under way by mid-March.
Essentially, said Hurst, if everything goes as planned, and it appears Hill is ahead of schedule, a best case scenario is that Hill will be able to participate in spring football, albeit with limited restrictions including no contact.
"He's undergoing physical therapy right now and doing great," said Hurst. "He's improving his range of motion every day. He's working hard as I knew he would because Taysom is a great kid. He's feeling excited for the opportunity and looking forward to playing football again.
"I saw him Monday for the first time without crutches. We kind of joked with each other. I said, 'Man, you look like you're ready to go,' and he replied, "Put me in there, I'm ready to go."
Hill was carrying around a football in practice Monday. "He just had a smile on his face, advancing in his recovery, with no crutches; he was weight bearing, being able to ambulate on his own with a brace, and that's a lot better walking instead of having to crutch around and be limited that way – especially for a kid like Taysom."
Hurst said Hill's range of motion is getting back and he's able to get a little quad (muscle) definition back in his leg. "It's exciting to see that progress and change because he was initially so down. To see the progress in his rehab has brightened his hope that things are going so well."
The trainer said he does not have a crystal ball and cannot predict when Hill can again run like the old Taysom Hill.
"It's one of those things where you take one day at a time with short-term and long-term goals. Our long-term goal is to get Taysom back 110 percent and have him back strong again. If everything goes well, we hope to have him back for some aspects of spring drills, barring any setbacks in his rehabilitation process."
Hurst is Hill's hands-on healer and in charge of his rehabilitation.
"There is no pre-determined date. As he is able to do this, we move him to do that, and it progresses that way. We push the envelope, but we don't push the envelope to where it sets everything back."
In all this, one thing is certain to Hurst.
From where Hill was the night of the injury, and the next day with the MRI, to what he found in surgery and then today, as he now walks around under his own power with a knee brace, this talented athlete has much to be thankful for after a horrendous and unfortunate situation.
"As a believer and a man of faith," said Hurst, "I believe divine providence has had a hand in his situation, he's been blessed and he is a young man who trusts and believes things will turn out well. He's been greatly blessed in his prayers to have things turn out the way they have to this date in time."
And to that, on this day of Thanksgiving, I say, Amen.
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