By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
Injuries are a risk for any athlete, but it’s a risk most athletes will tell you they are willing to take.
St. Michael-Albertville hasn’t avoided the injury bug this season and in some cases, the injuries have been career ending.
“We’ve had a little crew of crutches going up the elevator some days,” said STMA senior Austin Brouillette. “It’s pretty crazy. When you’re on a team, it’s a bond of brothers out there. Injuries are part of the game and if it happens, it happens. You just hope it doesn’t.”
In arguably the most physical sport, the STMA football team at one point this season had four guys walking the sidelines with crutches.
After an all-conference junior campaign, running back Ryan Lyzhoft had high hopes going into his senior season after registering nearly 1,000 total yards from both rushing and receiving.
On his fourth carry in only STMA’s second game of the season, Lyzhoft limped off the field and later would be diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament – a knee injury that ended his season and high school career on Sept. 7 at Duluth East.
“We were at the 5-yard line,” said Lyzhoft, who prior to the injury, had 52 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter. “I was running toward the end zone. The linebacker hit me on the side of the knee. That’s when it happened.”
Lyzhoft eventually joined injured senior kicker Justin McLain on the sidelines, who was coming off foot surgery suffered in a summer soccer league during the off-season. Junior Andrew Winans would later join the walking wounded after tearing his meniscus muscle in his knee.
“It’s really frustrating because I felt I let the team down,” Lyzhoft said. “Playing high school sports is always a risk of injury, but it’s worth it though.”
“Ryan had a great junior year for us,” said head football coach Jared Essler. “His loss was big. He’s one of the fastest kids on the team and one of the hardest workers on the field and in the weight room. It’s tough, because you want to see kids like that be successful.”
Lyzhoft’s injury didn’t stop the Knights from making a state tournament run. STMA lost 24-10 in the Section 6, Class 5A championship game to Elk River. Ironically, it was an earlier playoff game at home that Lyzhoft’s teammate suffered a devastating season-ending knee injury.
In the closing moments of a 34-23 quarterfinal playoff win Oct. 23 over Buffalo, Brouillette had a key interception in the late stages of the contest, helping set up the game-clinching touchdown. It was a play that Brouillette said he will never forget.
“I was running back and I was thinking of jumping over the kid (Buffalo quarterback Jason Senger),” said Brouillette on his interception return. “I thought I was bigger and stronger than this kid and thought I could just plow him over. He was just smarter than I was and went below my legs.”
After 20 minutes of lying near the goal line, Brouillette was wheeled off to a nearby hospital where he was later diagnosed with a broken femur and partially torn ACL.
“It was definitely the most painful thing that’s ever happened to me,” Brouillette said. “I’ve never screamed so loud in my life.”
“It wasn’t pretty. It was very hard to watch,” Essler said. “The kid hit him at full speed in the open field at the exact point when he planted his leg.”
Unlike Lyzhoft, Brouillette was able to play the entire regular season. But like Lyzhoft, Brouillette’s injury washed away his entire basketball season he had high hopes for.
“Not having a chance at basketball hurt,” Brouillette said. “Life goes on, but it was definitely a struggle for me to watch when I got hurt.”
He credited his football teammate for giving him the strength to move on.
“The fact Ryan was by my side the whole time really helped me,” Brouillette said. “Big thanks to him for helping me get through it. Amazing how good of a friend he was to me.”
Injuries hit STMA Arena
The football team wasn’t the only team dealing with major injuries. The boys’ hockey team also had its share of guys using crutches.
Senior captain Jon Gibbs was in and out of games early in the season due to a high ankle sprain. Gibbs missed only one game and led the team this season in assists and finished second in points with 23.
Fellow seniors Cade Gamrath and Mitchel Schneider were not quite as fortunate. Both players suffered season-ending injuries towards the end of the year thanks to a couple fluke plays that happened in practice.
Gamrath missed the final month after losing an edge and shattering his knee into the boards during practice. It sidelined him for the final 12 games. Schneider suffered torn knee ligaments in practice and missed the final 13 games of the season.
“It was really a freak accident on both their injuries,” said STMA boys’ hockey head coach Jerr Johnson. “It’s hard in high school to see kids suffer these severe injuries. They can’t get a medical redshirt like they do in college. You miss these guys as senior leaders, but it opens doors for a couple other people to step up as well.”
The Knights are hoping all their athletes will be able to step up – especially without the aid of crutches.