Eyeing his return
McLouth tri-athlete overcomes injured shoulder, ready for football season
The future of Ryan Smith's athletic career at McLouth High looked bleak after he attempted to catch a pass at last month's Ron Prince Football Camp on the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan.
The senior-to-be dived to make the catch in a 7-on-7 tournament, but when he landed, something didn't feel right. Smith had a helmet on for protective measures, but wasn't wearing pads. He felt the dreaded pop from his shoulder as he hit the ground.
"I was preparing for the worst," Smith said. "I thought it was over. I told (McLouth football) coach (Harry Hester) that was it. Initially, it was heart-wrenching. I've never had a single injury and I play all three sports (football, basketball, baseball)."
Smith walked off the field under his own power. It was only the summertime, but the thought of not seeing the football field lingered in his mind two months before the season even started. He was supposed to be the starting super back for the Bulldogs next year.
Then, luck struck Smith and his injured right shoulder.
Smith visited Dr. Kenneth Wertzberger, of the Kansas Center for Athletic Medicine, 1112 W. Sixth St., in Lawrence on June 26. Wertzberger, an orthopedic surgeon, specializes in sports medicine.
"The final diagnosis was a first-degree A-C (acromioclavicular) sprain," Wertzberger said. "Fortunately, when we looked in, he had not torn his ligament on the inside of the ball and socket."
If the ligament had been torn, Smith would have missed at least six months, setting him back until the end of December at the earliest. He would have missed the entire football season.
Instead, Smith missed only 11 days of working out.
"He just told me I was luckier than heck," Smith said of Wertzberger. "I was just relieved. The first thing I wanted to do was tell coach I could play."
The procedure, which Wertzberger performed on June 27, is referred to as an arthroscopy.
"You're basically looking in at the joint," Wertzberger explained. "You put the telescope down, which is about the size of a pencil, and look around for injuries. An MRI wouldn't have been as accurate as actually looking at it."
Wertzberger said the procedure was technically considered surgery. Smith was put under an anesthetic during the sterile procedure. After looking at the joint from the arthroscopy, Smith thankfully suffered an A-C sprain -- not a torn ligament.
The road to recovery
Smith can't take part in full-contact activity for another week-and-a-half at the earliest, but he started lifting weights July 9. He also does re-rotation stretches to gradually build up strength in his right shoulder again.
Smith lifts weights every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the McLouth High weight room. During his session Friday, Smith showed no ill-effects from the injury. He said he felt fine after the workout. Smith was constantly moving from station to station throughout the session with a sense of seriousness and purpose.
"There's no quit in him," Hester said. "He'll play 'till the whistle and he'll play 'till the final gun. Mentally, he wants to win, he wants to make plays and he wants the ball."
Smith will receive plenty of opportunities to see the football in the fall. He was a reliable tight end for the Bulldogs last season, but will make a switch to super back and take some carries out of the backfield this year.
Despite the scare of the injury, Smith has no plans to take it easy on the field. It's part of the goal he has for McLouth in the fall.
"I plan to push it as hard as I can," Smith said. "I plan to go as far as any program has gone here before. My dad never lets me hear the end of when the program finished second in the state in 1978 and 1980."
Pride on the mound
Football isn't even Smith's main sport. He considers baseball his main sport. He played third base and pitched for the Bulldogs last season.
Smith said he's considering playing collegiately at Washburn in Topeka as a possible destination for his abilities on the diamond after his senior season at MHS. Because he's so serious about baseball, Smith wanted the arthroscopy done immediately.
"You don't want to wait on these things or it will heal wrong," Smith said. "If it heals wrong, you can't fix it afterwards. Being a pitcher, you have to have all your mobility."
Smith was the No. 2 pitcher for MHS last season, but will expect to be the ace of the staff next spring. McLouth reached the Class 3A regional semifinals last season.
Smith, who played summer ball for the Tonganoxie Post 41 American Legion team, will miss the rest of the season.
The next step will be in August when full-pad practice begins for football. Smith's confidence level for full contact in pads should be assuring for Bulldogs fans.
"I'll be ready by then," Smith said.