Coming back from injury, through the eyes of three BYU football players

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LaVell Edwards Stadium was filled with excited fans as the BYU football team hosted Toledo in the fifth game of the 2016 season. The Cougars ultimately prevailed 55-53 in a thrilling game. That may be all fans remember, but the game holds different memories for then-freshman Sam Baldwin.

Baldwin, who played safety, suffered a season-ending injury.

Similarly, in the Cougars’ next matchup against Michigan State, fans may recall the Cougars winning 31-14.

And just like the Toledo game, linebacker Phillip Amone remembers the trip to East Lansing, MI, for the season-ending injury he suffered.

For Division I athletes, who eat, sleep and breathe their chosen sport for most of their lives, injuries can be devastating. They take a significant toll on them, both physically and mentally. They require patience and determination to come back from. BYU’s Baldwin, Amone and Tuni Kanuch were injured and had reconstructive surgeries within the past year and know that coming back from an injury is no simple task.

When Baldwin suffered his injury towards the end of the Toledo game, he said, “When I went down I was just in shock. Like I kind of didn’t know what happened. I was just laying there and I couldn’t move my leg really, so yeah, just kind of in shock.” 

Baldwin had torn his ACL, MCL, PCFL and both of his meniscuses. A huge injury like that meant immediate surgery, and a ten month recovery.

Jaren Wilkey/BYU
Sam Baldwin makes a tackle in the 2016 season opener against Arizona on Sept. 3, 2016. Baldwin suffered a season-ending injury four games later against Toledo. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

“Surgery kind of sucked,” Baldwin said. “I hate surgery. I was on crutches for six weeks, no walking. I was in a brace all day, every day; even when I slept I had to wear a brace.” 

He acknowledged his road to recovery was tough. He said just learning to walk was difficult at first, and with his left leg beginning to atrophy, it was definitely a challenge.

Baldwin said his love of football is what motivated him throughout his recovery, a sentiment echoed by both Kanuch and Amone.

Baldwin acknowledged that this trial helped him grow as an individual.

“It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve been through,” he said. “I think just it made me realize that I was taking some things for granted, like basic health things. Probably the biggest thing though was just being able to deal with adversity and be positive through it.”

When Amone was injured in the second quarter against Michigan State, he continued to play and finished the game. He said he knew in the back of his mind his season might be over, so he wanted to play as much as possible. 

“Initially when I got hurt, I was pretty down, just because I have had a few injuries throughout my career, and you know just after coming back from something that takes a good amount of time and kind of going back to square one, it can be a little discouraging,” Amone said. 

But he did not let that discouragement affect him.

After I had the surgery, I went through physical therapy, I went through the rehab and I went the whole nine yards to make sure that I could be healthy for this fall camp, which I’m back for today, so it’s been a great recovery,” he said.

For Amone, what motivated him during his recovery was the thought of getting back on the field and his playing time before his injury. He also wants to be able to represent BYU and his family again.

Now that Amone is fully recovered, his said his goal is to do everything he can to keep himself healthy and take advantage of every opportunity he has, because he never knows when that could be taken away. 

Kanuch, an offensive lineman, has had his share of dealing with injury as well. During his freshman season, he herniated two disks in his back but continued to play through the pain for three seasons.

According to Kanuch, he was willing to do it because of his love for the game.

“I love football so much,” he said. “Obviously I would go through pain just to play, I didn’t care. I love playing football, this is what I want to do.”

Kanuch was lifting weights when he injured his back and said afterwards, he went home and fell asleep.

When he woke up the following morning, he couldn’t walk.

“I was crying for like a week in my bed in the dark, depressed,” Kanuch said. “I thought I was like never going to be able to play ball again, I didn’t even know if I could walk again to be honest, like I literally couldn’t move.”

With the help of his doctors and chiropractors, Kanuch was able to play through three full seasons. He was always in pain and got injections that helped him function despite the pain.

Ultimately, he decided to have surgery in April. Kanuch has since made a full recovery.

He acknowledges many factors contributed to his recovery, including coaches, trainers and physical therapy, but he especially appreciates the help from his wife, Ofa Hafoka Kanuch.

I think this whole process just reminded him of the tender mercies that might seem little, but are really significant,” Ofa said, “like good health, football coaches and staff who genuinely care about his well being, medical professionals who are proficient and confident in their fields, and most importantly, a loving God who hears and answers prayers.”

Kanuch echoed his wife’s sentiments about God being there for him throughout this trial.

“It helped me to get closer to God,” he said. “Because without him, you just can’t get fixed. Stuff like that happens all the time and if you don’t have higher help, then there’s no way that you can heal. I mean to be honest the surgery was like a miracle. I got in in April, 4 months later, I’m playing football at full speed and better than ever. That doesn’t happen very often. So it’s growing my testimony that God is there and He loves us.” 

All three of these football players have endured their injuries with a positive outlook and have exhibited amazing strength during recovery. Their hard work has paid off and they now look forward to the season opener on Aug. 26 at LaVell Edwards Stadium against Portland State.

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