On Zeke McGaughy’s first carry in last year’s Class 2A state semifinal game, he was tackled awkwardly, forcing his right knee to bend in a way knees are not supposed to bend.
The Indian Rocks Christian High School running back knew something was wrong, but he did not know how bad the injury was until a trainer asked him to run along the sidelines.
“As soon as I tried running, it felt as if someone tied a rope around my ankles and pulled it out from under me,” McGaughy said. “My knee just gave out.”
The diagnosis: a torn posterior cruciate ligament.
Worse than the physical pain was the psychological toll. McGaughy, who gained 12 yards on his lone carry, watched helplessly as the Golden Eagles lost to eventual state champion Miami Champagnat Catholic 28-14.
“That was the toughest night I’ve ever had to go through, just going down and not being out there,” said McGaughy, a junior. “I could have been a big help.”
The PCL tear did not require surgery. Instead, McGaughy had to endure months of rehabilitation to get his knee back into playing shape. He worked relentlessly with squats, single leg presses and resistance training.
“I didn’t have to deal with a ton of pain, but my knee was just real weak,” he said. “I had to get stronger.”
McGaughy was released May 18 and no longer has to wear a brace. He resumed workouts with his team, but was not back at full strength until the summer.
“Zeke has done an incredible job of working to get back to where he was,” coach Mark Buchanan said.
In last week’s regular-season opener, he ran for 21 yards and scored once in a 35-0 win over St. Petersburg Catholic that ended early in the second quarter because of lightning. His running will be key be in Friday's game at Carrollwood Day that will go a long way toward determining the Class 2A, District 5 champion.
Last season, McGaughy had a team-high 103 yards rushing in a 14-6 win over Carrollwood Day.
“I don’t how much I’ll get the ball or how many yards I’ll have this week,” McGaughy said. “To me, it’s all about the offensive line. They open the holes, and I just try to run as hard as I can. I’m a north-south runner. There’s no real moves. I’m just making one cut and going.”
McGaughy is a throwback, a 200-pound bruiser with deceptive grace who is at home running between the tackles. His hard-nosed style, though, can lead to injuries. Besides the PCL tear, McGaughy also had a high ankle sprain last season that forced him to miss three games. Still, he rushed for 920 yards, second most on the team.
Now, he’s trying to dish out the same punishment without absorbing too much of his own.
“I battled through a lot of injuries last year, and that might have hurt me getting looks from colleges,” McGaughy said. “I’m just trying to stay healthy so I can be there the whole season and help us win a state title.”
Contact Bob Putnam at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.