REGGIE HAYES: After devastating knee injury, North Side’s Kalen Desrosiers fights back
Kalen Desrosiers ached to play. He ached so much, he wondered if he could just put everything on hold. His life, his schoolwork, his football career. Hit pause. Then rewind.
Could he just start his senior year at North Side High School over again next fall?
“At one point, I went to our principal and asked if I could reclassify,” Desrosiers said. “He shut that down real quick. But I was so desperate.”
Desrosiers entered the fall as a player on the verge of a major breakout. He had performed well during summer camps. His skills had piqued the interest of Illinois State, Indiana State and Ball State. It seemed like every coach from a school with “State” in its name was eager to take a look.
The coaches wanted to see Desrosiers, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound wide receiver, play defense. He was ready to play strong safety, although his new North Side coach Mike Brevard – a mentor in the making – was thinking linebacker.
“He had aspirations of going (NCAA) Division I and, being realistic, it could have happened,” Brevard said.
Those dreams were derailed when Desrosiers suffered a torn ACL and meniscus chasing down Jordan Presley in the preseason scrimmage game against Bishop Luers.
“Once the injury happened,” Desrosiers said, “a lot of things changed.”
Here’s the best thing about change: Sometimes it leads to other opportunities, other options that end up being the best path after all.
Those “State” schools faded away.
“You can tell when schools back off. They’re talking to you then all of a sudden you don’t hear anything from them,” Desrosiers said. “You get the idea they’re not really going to want you anymore.”
But if that avenue closed, another opened. Coaches from the University of Saint Francis, the defending NAIA national champion in Desrosiers’ hometown, didn’t look at his injury as career-altering. They didn’t look at him as a “former” prospect. They saw the same potential in him as they did before the injury.
“They said, ‘Get well, we still want you.’ Not once did they ever say it was a problem,” Desrosiers said. “They invited me to a game and I was walking the sideline with my (knee) immobilizer on. I never felt like they didn’t want me anymore.”
Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley, the winningest coach in the NAIA, took a bigger picture look.
“You always have kids with season-ending injuries,” Donley said. “If you’ve got a year to recover, chances are, you’ll be OK. He should be OK.”
Another twist in this story is the presence of Brevard. Hired as a first-year head coach, Brevard jumped in at North Side during the summer. He brought with him two factors that would end up helping Desrosiers: Brevard played at Saint Francis, and he suffered a neck/spine injury that forced him to miss time in college. Then he came back.
Coach and player are similar, in size, approach and attitude. Some of the other coaches at North Side refer to Desrosiers as Brevard’s “Mini Me,” because of their similarities.
Desrosiers’ older brother, Kyle Miles, went through a similar senior season injury when he was in high school. So that helped him, and the presence of Brevard was an added assist.
“I guess I’d say Brevard has really become a big brother to me, too,” Desrosiers said. “Going to his house for dinner, kicking with his family. He’s been a real role model to look after me.”
The climb back isn’t easy. Recovering from an ACL tear is common today, but it requires work. It requires dealing with pain and setbacks and the psychological effects of having to rebuild your body. As a top-notch athlete, it’s tough to start over.
Brevard encouraged Desrosiers to spend some of his unwanted free time during football season working on his academics. He encouraged him to stick around the team, supporting the Legends during practice and games in any way he could.
“I knew I could come back,” Desrosiers said. “I was just so eager to play this year, probably more than I’ve ever been to play anything in my life. To sit there and watch it, it hurt a lot sometimes. It hurt seeing all my brothers on the field and not being able to suit up. And we had a down season, so I felt I let them down.”
Brevard said he and Desrosiers butted heads sometimes, with frustration on both ends, but he knew having Desrosiers on the field all fall would ultimately help the young man.
“I remember what Coach Donley said to me when I was hurt,” Brevard said. “He said, ‘Stay around the game. If you don’t stay around the game, you’ll veer off.’ Kalen wanted to play so much it was hard. I can’t act like everyting was perfect. But at the end of the day, I love the kid.”
Desrosiers said his time watching helped him to see the game differently, knowledge he hopes will be a benefit when he returns. He hopes to be able to participate in track and field this spring, but that’s not guaranteed. He is a strong long jumper when healthy.
“I have to take the good out of it,” Desrosiers said. “Being out there on the field, everything is going 100 mph. You’ll hear the coach talking to you but you don’t really hear. Sitting on the sideline, I can see so many things I can do to fix and become a better player. When I get on the field again, I’ll be a whole different animal.”
Desrosiers couldn’t put his football career on hold and regain his senior year. But he’s moving now, moving forward, and opportunity is on its way back next fall at Saint Francis.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.