MORGANTOWN — You are 19 years old, your body as hard as a rock.
You stand 6-foot, 5-inches and that body that was on a 205-pound wide receiver has built itself up to become a 245 college tight end.
You are strong, you are fast. You were offered a football scholarship by Ohio State, which around you Chicago area home is like getting a gift from heaven, but you turned it down in favor of a gift from “Almost Heaven.”
You visited West Virginia University, and as you would say, “I fell in love with it.”
You, Mike O’Laughlin, had it all going for you. You were Superman in blue and old gold, bulletproof and able to fly, or so it seemed.
And then, in fall camp last year, you tore your ACL.
You read about these injuries all the time, then the man who suffers them disappears from view and goes through ... what?
What is it like to get a knee injury, to undergo surgery and miss year before you played a college snap?
That’s what we asked O’Laughlin.
“I’m a football player, so I know that happens,” he began. “Everyone has a friend who has been through it so I knew what to expect. I knew I would be out for a while.”
But it is nowhere near that easy to accept what has happened or to come back from it.
“When you tear your ACL you are shocked at first, but you can’t do anything about it,” O’Laughlin said. “You kind of just go into the dark, you go into a cave and for nine months you’re just working. You’re not in the limelight. Nothing.”
Think about that. You become segregated from the team. You can’t really talk with them about what is going on in practice, in the locker room. They are the players, while you are stuck in the ICU.
“You’re just working your butt off to try and get back. I kind of just put my blinders on,” he said.
You wonder if you will be back. What will you lose in a year without football? Will you lose a step or two? Will you gain weight?
“It goes slowly and there are no shortcuts. It’s sweat and work and patience,” O’Laughlin said.
In many ways it’s a roller coaster ride. One day it goes well, you take a step forward, next day it’s two steps back.
“I had many days like that,” O’Laughlin admitted. “You could have a flight and you feel great before the flight but then you land over there and you’re hurting. Every doctor says you are going to have good days and bad days. Just try to be consistent. The more you strengthen it, the better it will feel.”
Your circle of friends seems to come down to you and the training staff that is pushing through exercises you never thought you’d go through on a daily basis.
“You get really close with those guys. You are in there two, three times a day with them. Those are kind of your best friends,” he said.
You didn’t go on the road with the team.
“I was in the dorms last year and I’d watch the games. The Texas game, you got all these football players in there and Gary Jennings scored that touchdown and we’re going nuts,” he said.
Slowly you improve, but you never really know how it will work out.
“There’s always doubt,” he said.
Then one day you are out there on the field and they decide it’s time to move forward. “Imagine not running for six months and then someone tells you to go run and make a cut. You’re kind of like ... what?” O’Laughlin said.
You try it hesitantly and everything stays connected, so you try it again and again.
You are on the road to recovery.
It’s been a year and month now and O’Laughlin’s trying to play himself into the tight end rotation.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter at @bhertzel.