Running back Michael Duclos was having the game of his life against Lennard.
On the night of Oct. 4, 2013 — a week removed from Robinson ending a four-game skid — Duclos had already carried the ball 12 times for 110 yards and a touchdown. On No. 13, he saw the hole at the line of scrimmage closing. Five defenders converged on him, the first went low, the rest piled on. It was hardly an atypical situation for the bulldozing Duclos, no stranger to dragging would-be tacklers for extra yards. The aftermath, however, was.
"I knew at the time I had injured (my knee), but I didn't think much of it, even on the way home," said Duclos, now a senior at Hillsborough High. "It wasn't until I was home, sitting down and my knee just gave out — that's when I knew it was something bad."
Duclos went to two doctors. The first said he was done with football; the next said he could make it back. What they both agreed on was that Duclos had suffered an "unhappy triad" — tearing of all three major knee ligaments, the ACL, MCL and meniscus. The news was devastating to the junior.
"I just felt blank," Duclos said. "I couldn't think of what to do next."
Duclos' older brother, Carlos, a 2013 Robinson graduate, lost his junior season to a similar knee injury. "It was going through my head what happened to Carlos. It happened to both of us our junior year," he said.
Last season was supposed to be Duclos' breakout year after playing behind Youngstown State and Missouri Valley Newcomer and Freshman of the Year Martin Ruiz in 2012.
"Michael was an absolute beast," former Robinson head coach Mike DePue said. "He's the type of kid that will get his shoulders square and bowl people over. And once he's through the hole, he can run away from people or he's going to truck them."
Expectations were high for Duclos, but with little highlight film from his junior year, his chances of landing scholarship offers were in peril. To date, the 5-foot-9, 205-pounder has no college offers.
"If you lose that (junior season tape), it can be devastating for kids," DePue said. "It's not a make-or-break, but it definitely puts you behind the eight ball."
Duclos is quick to point out that he never cried about his plight, even when his comeback chances seemed slim.
"I remember just trying to straighten my leg — I can't even explain the pain trying to straighten and then stretch my leg," he said.
But he attacked his rehabilitation effort with the same intensity he attacked would-be tacklers.
"Every workout, I would push myself to the limit," Duclos said. "I threw up after at least half of my training sessions."
The perseverance paid off. When Duclos transferred to Hillsborough over the summer, he immediately nabbed the title of strongest guy on the team after bench-pressing 325 pounds.
"He understands football and is extremely coachable," running backs coach Alonzo Ashwood said. "And no one is going to outwork him."
Duclos' return to the field Sept. 5 — Hillsborough's season opener — against district rival Jefferson should be a boon for a Terriers offense that had trouble moving the ball on the ground in a preseason win over Clearwater.
"(Duclos) brings a between-the-tackles presence like we haven't had here in a while," Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia said. "He's also got pretty good hands and could be an every-down back for us."