NEW CANAAN — First came the snapping and cracking sound that all athletes hear about but can never fully comprehend until it happens to them. Such was the case last month for New Canaan linebacker Cass Knox when confronted with the disheartening reverberation of separating ligaments on a play near the end of the day at a football camp at Boston College.
“I knew it couldn’t be good,” Knox said. “I was trying to convince myself I had done something other than an ACL. It took five days before the diagnosis, and for five days I was turning myself into a doctor, looking up all the symptoms of an ACL and if I matched those symptoms.”
As Knox discussed the torn ACL and partially torn meniscus in his right knee, he was sitting on the sideline as the Rams went through a conditioning drill. It was a rare moment of inactivity for the captain, who took a few days to feel sorry for himself, and then committed to fulfilling the only contribution he can make on one good leg for the team he was expecting to play a key role for in its quest for league and state championships.
“The coaches are finding ways to keep me involved with the team, giving me stuff to look at with film, giving me things to look out for during practice,” Knox said. “Keeping me incorporated with the team. It is pretty helpful.”
Knox was supposed to be the leader of the defense, which was hit hard by graduation losses. Knox finished third on the team in tackles a year ago during a breakout season. His senior year ended two months before the first game, so Knox is focusing on excelling in the one job he can: leading the FCIAC in leadership.
“It’s a tremendous loss for us,” said New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli. “He’s come to everything. He’s been doing whatever he can. I can’t say enough good things about all that he has done.”
Knox recalled that he had come to terms with the outcome before receiving the doctor’s phone call, but he was able to keep a grip on his emotions until a phone call from Marinelli.
“Lou called me and started talking about how sad he was, and that’s when it was the most devastating,” Knox said. “Hearing your coach saying you’re not going to play again this season and not the doctor, that’s when it kicked in.”
When the Rams are stretching before practice, Knox does his rehabilitation workouts. The he follows the linebackers around, helping out during drills and offering advice and encouragement. Knox said the other players can expect this on a daily basis until the season ends.
“I’ll be here every day,” Knox said. “Being around them is the best part of my day. If I’m ever feeling down they pick me up. If they ask me questions and I’m able to help that picks me up.”
Marinelli has had to deal not only with the sorrow for one of his players, but the personnel loss to a defensive unit that will be counting on many skilled but unproved starters.
“You hate to see when a kid works so hard to do so much and it all goes up in smoke like that,” Marinelli said. “It is especially hard when you know football means so much to him. There are certain kids who live and die football and he’s one of them.”
There will be no more charging onto Dunning Field, no final Turkey Bowl and — well Knox will address this in a moment — probably no more postseason games. That doesn’t mean no more football. Knox fully expects to play in college next year, and Marinelli said that with good film from a year ago and work in the weight room, that likely is one dream that will be realized.
As for that postseason game, Knox is quick to note that the time frame for his recovery and the fact he already is ahead of schedule has kept an appearance in a potential state championship from being crossed off his list.
“There’s no way I’ve played my last down of football,” Knox said. “I’m going to play somewhere.”
Graphic by Cooper Boardman