By BEN JOHNSON
There would be days when he couldn’t hold back his emotions. All he could do was watch in agony while his teammates played the game that he loved.
That’s how Colton Wright’s junior year played out. Being relegated to the sidelines because of a knee injury, all he could do was spectate with envy.
“There have definitely been times,” he said, “when I sat at football practice and cried in my car — from just watching them.”
It wasn’t supposed to play out like that.
While at the Cushing wrestling tournament during his sophomore year, Wright tore virtually every ligament in his left knee. He also suffered a bone fracture, saying that his opponent dug his knee into his leg — while it was extended.
“It tore my lateral meniscus, my ACL and calf muscle,” Wright said. “I also broke my tibia plateau. I had a fracture right there, and that’s why it took so long to get my first surgery. It was because it’s right where they drill in, so they had to wait for that to heal first.”
The nightmare didn’t end there.
Multiple surgeries ensued. For Wright it seemed like a monotonous process.
“I had four months after my first surgery, and then a month after my second surgery, and then six months after my third surgery,” Wright said of all of rehab stints.
Of course, most people only go through the arduous labor of one rehab process. Wright had several because he had to keep going back to have more surgeries.
“I had rejected what the doctor put in me,” Wright said. “I rejected the cadaver Achilles tendon. It was like a tendon issue or something. It just didn’t take, like if somebody gets a kidney transplant and it doesn’t take. It was just one of those things.”
Wright was led to believe he would only have to go under the knife once. Yet, it didn’t play out like that.
“I thought I was going to have one,” he said, “and be ready for my junior year.”
Instead, he had almost a year’s worth of rehabilitation, seven months on crutches and three months in a cast.
Now he has only final year of varsity eligibility, and he says he’s stronger and healthier now than he’s ever been.
“(The leg) is 100 percent, for sure,” Wright said. “I’m about 75 pounds stronger in my legs than I was when I tore my ACL. My 40 is three-tenths of a second faster. I don’t know if it’s because I got older, or if I’ve been working really hard.”
He’s coming back at the right time.
In the upcoming 2013 campaign, Wright will team up with Brandon Conrad to form a one-two punch that will be in charge of filling the void left by running back Mason McMillan, who left as the school’s all-time, single-season rushing leader.
Big responsibility, right?
“I don’t really look at it that way,” said Wright, who is nicknamed “Smash” in the duo “Smash and Dash” with Conrad.
“I’m just going to get the job done, and I think me and Brandon together (are) going to a force to be reckoned with.”
Tahlequah head coach Brad Gilbert certainly isn’t doubting Wright, who will also double as a linebacker for the Tigers.
“He wants to win, and he wants to work hard,” Gilbert said of Wright, who measures in at 6 feet tall and 207 pounds.
“He wants to do what needs to be done to turn the corner here.”
Acknowledging Wright’s work ethic to return to playing shape, Gilbert said it’s hard to even tell Wright had three procedures.
“For him to show no indication of tearing his ACL and three surgeries is impressive,” said Gilbert, going into his second full season at the helm for the Tigers.
“You’d never know it. He doesn’t mention anything, and it’s been impressive.”
The last varsity competition that Wright took part in was a wrestling dual at the TMAC on Jan. 11, 2012. On one good leg, Wright managed to pin McAlester’s Will Derishsweiler at 2:30, accounting for five falls in Tahlequah’s 56-17 triumph.
To Wright, that seems like a long time ago. He’s ready to take the field against Fort Gibson on Sept. 6.
“I can almost taste it,” he said. “I’m ready to strap ‘em up and get after it.”
Tigers to take on Muldrow, Miami
Three eastern Oklahoma teams will meet in Tahlequah on Friday night at Doc Wadley Stadium. Tahlequah will host both Miami and Muldrow in a preseason scrimmage, which begins at 6 p.m.
Tahlequah head coach Brad Gilbert said he’ll be looking for his players to do the little things correctly.
“We want to show we’ve become more disciplined,” Gilbert said. “We want to look sharp in our alignment, and we want to be more mature in every phase of the game.”
It’ll also be a test for some younger players to make an impression on the Tahlequah coaching staff.
“We want to see which young guys have matured,” Gilbert said. “Because they could receive time on Friday nights.”
Other area scrimmages this week include Keys hosting Colcord and Roland on Thursday night. In Hulbert, the Riders will entertain Quinton at Rider Field on Thursday night.