Life on the sidelines – BYU athletes recount season-ending injuries
Season-ending injuries are not an uncommon occurrence in BYU sports, but what does life on the sidelines and behind the scenes look like for these athletes whose dreams and expectations are suddenly taken in an instant? The Daily Universe spoke with a few of them to understand what it’s like.
Not even two herniated discs from a workout injury, surgery and sitting out fall camp could deter BYU defensive lineman Lorenzo Fauatea’s determination to play in the 2021 football season.
“I just couldn’t stand sitting out,” he said, “I ended up forcing myself to play again.”
Fauatea’s back gave out during spring ball workouts while deadlifting in March 2021. The lineman persevered after several epidural shots. He was willing to do just about anything to avoid surgery. This was meant to be his comeback year, as he had suffered a fracture to his foot causing him to miss the rest of the 2020 football season and was ready to play again.
Alas, the epidural shots proved to be fruitless and surgery became a last resort for the lineman.
“In July, it took the whole summer of me training with (my injury), thinking I can really have it better, just to get surgery on it,” Fauatea said.
Accepting the fate of surgery was a difficult mental process for the lineman, as he thought this was a “career-ending injury” for him. The very thought of being done with football gutted him.
Fauatea described it as a blessing when the doctors recommended a “smaller surgery.” The catch, however, was that he would miss a few games for recovery.
“The whole thought process was just hard mentally,” Fauatea said addressing how he felt after discovering he had to miss a few games. “But just the competitiveness, I guess in all athletes, we just want to play, right?”
An unfaltering Fauatea went on to play, avoiding the healing process. Unfortunately, after suffering an injury against Utah State, he had to sit out the rest of the season.
“Two season injuries back to back took a toll on me,” Fauatea said. He started to question if “football was really meant for him.”
The West Valley, Utah native recalled feeling bouts of shame when he had to sit on the sidelines and see his parents attend games even though he couldn’t play. “They sacrificed a lot…to get me here at BYU so it’s kind of like a give back for them to be able to watch their son play football for a DI school.”
For two months after the injury, the lineman recounted feeling very unmotivated and apathetic towards football. “Being around football around that time was just not for me.”
During his recovery, Fauatea worked with BYU sports psychologist, Tom Golightly. The lineman acknowledged that talking to him helped with handling the negative thoughts that plagued him while enduring the injury. On the physical end of things, he did rehab training and strengthening workouts with the trainers at BYU.
For BYU forward Gavin Baxter, accepting the fate of his torn ACL was not the hardest thing to accept, as disappointing as it was, after sustaining the season-ending injury in a road loss at UVU.
“I was trying to time up an offensive rebound to jump up and grab the rebound,” Baxter said. “When I went to jump I planted wrong and I ended up tearing my ACL on my left knee.”
Baxter remembered wanting to be “super emotional” at the moment it happened. Oddly enough, he was calm because he had suffered this type of injury before, and although more emotions came later, in the moment, the forward said he was “probably more level-headed than most people would be.”
“I was mentally prepared for (the injury). Athletes have multiple injuries throughout their careers,” Baxter said. “There’s no magic fix… once it happens a couple of times you get used to it.”
Unlike his previous injuries, this torn ACL would mark the end of the senior’s BYU career. Having to miss the rest of the games this season was a frustrating feeling for Baxter. Just like Fauatea, Baxter had suffered a season-ending injury in the previous season as well. He saw this year as his time to “regain confidence” in himself.
Being sidelined for the second time in a row took a mental toll on Baxter. Even attending the games was a difficult experience for him.
“It was honestly really hard because I really just wanted to help my team out,” Baxter said. “I was looking forward to playing in our conference, playing Gonzaga, playing in the conference things like that.”
As disappointing as the setback felt, Baxter believes focusing on what really matters and leaving things in God’s hands is the best thing for him to do. Even though he regards basketball as a “huge part” of his life, the forward had always accepted that a time would come when his playing days would be over.
“Experiences like this kind of help you prepare for life and what’s ahead,” Baxter said. “Sports injuries wouldn’t be the hardest thing I am going to have to go through in my life, so it just makes you stronger to face the other challenges that life brings.”
On the mental end of things, Baxter attributes his recovery to all the people who have reached out to him with love and words of encouragement.
“The support system around me has been incredible and so just having that support system of people that believe in me has been really crucial,” Baxter said.
Despite the disappointment from sitting on the sidelines, both Fauatea and Baxter have found positivity from having more time to spend with family and finding more productive ways to fill their time once spent playing the sport they loved.
“I am getting married in March and so I have been able to spend a lot of time with my fiance … and hang out with my family more so that’s been fun,” Baxter said.
Fauatea picked up cooking as a new hobby. “I watched a lot of cooking shows, so I started cooking more.”
Moving forward, both athletes are focused on bouncing back and being resilient through it all.