There was only about a minute left in the next to last game of the 2011 season for Honolulu (Hawaii) St. Louis receiver Jeremy Tabuyo. By all accounts, it was just another route and just another catch in a junior campaign that saw him emerging as one of the top prospects on the island regardless of classification with over 600 yards receiving and five touchdowns. Tabuyo was also an accomplished track star, one of the island's fastest runners. With every reception pushing its way onto an ever lengthening highlight reel, Tabuyo was closer to the scholarship that would enable him to get a college degree.
Then came the sound that all athletes dread: a pop.
"I caught the ball for a first down and landed only on my right leg," said Tabuyo. "The defensive back's knee went right into the side of my knee and I felt it pop. It was so painful I couldn't even get up. I couldn't even move my knee after the game."
Tabuyo had torn his right ACL and had also torn his meniscus. He has the dates etched in his mind: Oct. 21, 2011 was when he was injured and Nov. 11, 2011 was when he had surgery.
"I was devastated," he said. "I was so frustrated I didn't even use crutches. I had to wait a couple of weeks after the injury to get the swelling down to have the surgery."
Overnight, confidence was replaced by doubt and frustration.
However, Tabuyo managed to overcome both to push himself through his rehabilitation beyond the limits of what most people would have thought possible with some motivation provided by people within his family and school as well as critics outside of those circles.
"It was hard, one of the toughest things I have ever had to go through," he said. "At the beginning, I was being talked to by a lot of colleges. I was so down because I thought that I was not going to get a scholarship. My family was always there and my coaches were always there telling me that it was not over, that I had one more year left. On blogs, people were saying that I would never come back and that my speed would never be the same. It was tough but I got through it with the help of family and friends."
Most of all, Tabuyo got through it with an indomitable will that not only wouldn't let him give up but propelled him to do more than stay on schedule with his recovery.
"I went to rehab four times week even though I had to go just two or three times a week. I walked on it to get my strength back faster. I left my crutches in the office and I went up and down stairs and all over the school," he said. "It was hard. It was crazy. People were telling me to use the crutches but I knew that I had to push myself to get back on the field faster. It just felt like that I had something to prove the whole time I was hurt."
"At first, it was painful. I would force myself to put weight on it. My doctor challenged me to walk on it. I wouldn't even focus on the pain, just focus on getting better. At first, I was holding onto the railing and helping myself up and then as time went by I started walking up the center of the stairway and not holding onto to anyone or the railings."
Tabuyo's recovery came so quickly that he was cleared to start running in a straight line in about three and a half months after his surgery. He actually ran in his first track meet in the 100 meters about four months after the surgery.
"It was nerve wracking," he said. "I won second place. I never really pushed out of the blocks during practice. It was so intimidating to do it again. At the meet, when it came down to representing my school I just went for it all. I didn't think about anything but winning the race. The whole track season I would come in second place to this one guy. The previous year I would always beat him. I finally beat that guy. It was such a relief, man. It felt so good."
Tabuyo's fastest time in the spring was a 11.1, which was slower than the 10.84, he had run the year before but his ability to run at a high level was a big boost.
"Going into football, I had so much confidence from track that didn't worry about my knee," he said. "It helped me a lot."
In fact, his coaches may have had less confidence in Tabuyo's knee than he did.
"During practice, we would go 11 on 11 and they still would hold me out," he said. "I knew that I could do it but they told me we don't need you to practice. At first, it took me a while to get back in it. Track was 100 meters in a straight line. Football, I was going to worry about making cuts at full speed but I lost my fear after the very first game. I realized that I was not going to get hurt doing the things I do. Right after my very first hit, I just played my game. I had nine catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns and that's why I was so confident. They have one of top defenses in state."
Tabuyo wound up leading his team to an 8-3 record and in the process had 49 receptions for 770 yards and 11 touchdowns. He hadn't just come back part of the way, but all of the way. from the injury.
He was whole again.
"My family was excited to see me back on the football field," he said. "They just wanted me to have fun my senior year. I wanted to be on the field one last time before I graduated. A lot of people were questioning me, saying that I would not be the same again. It was fun to go out and prove people wrong."
Tabuyo was offered by Texas A&M this past summer and committed just a few days later. The Aggies are getting a three-star prospect with a five-star heart and a story that deserved to be told.