Picture yourself in eighth grade, playing your final football game in the playoffs. The game is being played at the high school that you hope to play for next year as a freshman.
Your coach signals for a slant, but calls an audible for a screen. You make the catch, but before you can turn up field, two defenders are upon you. One hits you on the left side, the other the right. There’s a horrible, painful snapping sound as you go down.
Your leg is broken. It’s gruesome, much like Joe Theismann on Monday Night Football in 1985. This is what happened to Metea Valley’s Matt Hartdegen.
He was rushed to the hospital, where it was determined he had acute compartment syndrome, the broken bone tearing through muscles and nerves. Surgery was required, followed by several months of rest, recovery and physical therapy.
Finally, after six long and painful months of therapy, he finally heard something from doctors and therapists that was as devastating as the injury itself: “There’s a very good chance you won’t be able to play football ever again.”
Those words overwhelmed Hartdegen.
“I was devastated to hear that, but I wasn’t going to give up,” he said. “I went to summer camp, and then freshman year, I think the switch from physical therapy to trying to play football again helped me get back to normal, helped me strengthen my leg.”
Amazingly, Hartdegen was back on the field his freshman year on the offensive line.
He switched to the defensive line for his sophomore year and has remained there the past two seasons, including this year as a starting defensive end.
“I actually didn’t even know about the bad fracture he had in his leg because he was here before I was,” Metea Valley coach Ben Kleinhans said. “He was a sophomore my first year, and last year he started some games for us and has now been playing for us all year.”
The senior has put the nightmares of his horrific injury behind him, continuing to play a sport he loves thanks to medical advances. His leg was reconstructed with the help of a few screws and a titanium rod.
“I feel like it’s 100 percent now,” he said. “Obviously, the muscle in my leg is a little messed up. Instead of a calf muscle on the outside of my leg, mine pushed up on my shin so it looks like I have a big shin muscle. I can’t fully lift my leg up or lift up my toes. When I walk sometimes, I trip over my toes.”
The Mustangs have had a few trip-ups this season, but not many. They head into Friday’s regular-season finale against Neuqua Valley having won five games in a season for the first time in school history, and look to be busy next weekend with their first-ever playoff game.
Hartdegen is delighted to be a part of it, especially since he was unpleasantly close to never playing again.
“It just shows his toughness and determination to get back in shape and to get the strength to get over that mental block,” Kleinhans said. “You watch him run and play and you can’t even tell he had that injury. He’s had some other injuries this year and last year, but he’s played through them so that shows his toughness and determination to stay on the field.”