On the eve of playing in his first high school football game since a knee injury sidelined him for most of the 2018 season, running back Damien Moore of La Puente Bishop Amat said he was too excited to fall asleep. Months of preparation had made him bigger, stronger, faster. Now was his chance to prove it.
Coach Steve Hagerty promised that the first play of the first game last week would be a handoff to Moore. Only one problem: the snap against Pomona Diamond Ranch went over the head of the quarterback. And then there was a missed exchange on the second play. Moore would have to wait a little longer.
“I tried to keep my positive mind-set, keep everyone calm,” Moore said.
Despite the shaky start, Moore would go on to rush for 206 yards and score two touchdowns in a 17-0 victory, showing once again that with the right focus, determination and guidance, players can come back from injuries.
“I had a lot of support from my family and my coaches,” he said. “Athletes learn to stay positive and trust the process and listen to what the trainers tell you to do.”
Moore wasn’t the only player coming back from injury to make an impressive return. Offensive tackle Myles Murao of Santa Ana Mater Dei played like an All-American blocker in his team’s win over Corona Centennial. He suffered a broken fibula in the middle of last season and missed out on the Monarchs’ playoff run.
Running back Amir Bankhead of Lancaster Paraclete missed all of last season with a knee injury. He returned with 57 yards rushing and six receptions for 24 yards in a loss to Rocklin Whitney.
Running back Nathaniel Jones of Bellflower St. John Bosco wasn’t cleared to play until last week and will make his season debut on Friday against Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep after a knee injury in the first game last season sent him to the sideline.
“I’m ready,” he said.
High school athletes fear a serious injury can make college recruiters back off. And it happens. Hagerty said one school that had offered Moore a scholarship after his outstanding sophomore year decided it needed to “reevaluate” him after his posterior cruciate ligament injury.
“He was kind of shaken,” Hagerty said. “Basically, they told him, ‘You don’t have an offer anymore. We need to see you play.’ He got a reality check how the world works.”
By last spring, though, Moore was back making a positive impression and a new school stepped forward, Cal, to offer him a scholarship. And he accepted.
Ditto for Jones, who committed to UCLA after the Bruins kept recruiting him even though he hasn’t played in a game since his injury.
“I’m coming back faster, stronger, more prepared,” Jone said.
Getting through the first game and regaining “playing shape” is the challenge when returning from an injury.
“He’s got to get into game shape,” Hagerty said of Moore. “You can be in shape but have to play games to be in game shape.”
Moore is moving forward. His time on the sideline was not pleasant but he has come back healthy and motivated.
“I’m a firm believer everything happens for a reason,” he said.