During a team scrimmage with his Hope College football team in August of 2017,  running back Mike Miklusicak cradled a handoff, slashed up the middle, planted his right leg, and cut to the left to avoid a tackle.

Unfortunately, that move cost him his season.

“I felt and heard a big pop,” Miklusicak said. “I thought ‘that’s not good.’ I kept running and got tackled. When I got off the field, I went up to one of the athletic trainers and told him something popped, but nothing hurts.”

The trainer started moving the running back’s right leg. He heard a click.

“I’m a biology major,” Miklusicak, 22, said. “I thought ‘this isn’t good.’ That was textbook ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). I hopped off the table and the trainer said, ‘You’re probably done for the day. Let me know if it feels unstable.’”

Miklusicak tried making small cuts on the sideline. He thought to himself “man, it feels goofy.”

When he shifted his weight back and forth from left to right, his left leg gave out for a second.

“I kind of knew,” he said. “It was a weird gut feeling. That started my whirlwind of knee issues.”

The Wayland, Michigan, resident visited Kendall Hamilton, MD, section chief of sports medicine for Spectrum Health Medical Group Orthopedics.

An MRI confirmed the football player’s fears.

“They told me I tore it,” Miklusicak said. “Going into it I kind of knew. It wasn’t like a complete shock. At first, it was pretty disheartening.”

He underwent reconstruction surgery on September 8 of last year.

“I had a good support system with family and friends,” Miklusicak said. “I didn’t really have time to be sad. I was not even thinking about the following season.”

Understand. Miklusicak is an athlete. He’s used to moving. He had to stay off his leg for two weeks. Next came bending and walking. He revisited the weight room after five months. About six months out from surgery, he could participate in isolated football drills, but no team activities.

“I wanted to get back to being athletic and running around,” he said. “When I don’t work out, I get grumpy.”

Nine months after surgery, Dr. Hamilton cleared him for full activity.

He moved better than ever.

“I felt great,” Miklusicak said. “In our mid-summer testing, I tested better in every category (squat bench, 40-yard dash) in comparison to before I tore my ACL. I was able to come back the same, if not stronger and faster.”

In early August, training camp rolled around.

“Everything was going well and I was feeling good,” Miklusicak said. “On a freak play, I got in a scuffle with somebody going out of bounds. We both fell. I felt my other knee go ‘click.’ It didn’t have a muscular sound or muscular feeling, which made me nervous.”

He headed for the athletic trainer’s table.

“We sat there in silence,” Miklusicak said. “He checked out the stability of the knee and put some ice on it. The next day, it puffed right up. He didn’t like that.”

Miklusicak headed back to Spectrum Health, where he saw Travis Menge, MD, an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon who has treated high-level athletes, including professional football players.

An MRI showed a grade 1 MCL (medial collateral ligament) sprain, a grade 1 medial patellar sprain and a cartilage defect.

“Michael sustained an acute injury to his knee when he got hit playing collegiate football,” Dr. Menge said. “He had damage to his cartilage and broke a piece of cartilage off the end of his femur (thigh bone). The loose piece of cartilage was then trapped inside his knee, floating around in the knee similar to a loose rock under your foot in your shoe.”

The cartilage fragment caused pain and swelling, and could cause damage to other structures in the knee if left untreated.

Dr. Menge performed a minimally-invasive arthroscopic surgery to remove the cartilage and clean up the inflammation in the knee.

“He was able to put weight on his leg immediately after surgery and we started him in physical therapy the following day,” Dr. Menge said. “He was able to return to college football three weeks after surgery and, in his first game back, he scored three touchdowns and was named the offensive player for his conference.”

Dr. Menge said Miklusicak’s drive and desire helped his recovery.

“I always tell patients that their recovery is not only based on how well the surgery goes, but also on how well they do with their part of the rehabilitation process.”

Besides the three touchdowns in his first game back, Miklusicak rushed for 140 yards on only 13 carries, a 10.8-yard average.

He’s been pounding the rock ever since.

“During the games I feel fine,” he said. “I think it feels the best when I’m playing. Adrenalin is a beautiful thing. I haven’t had any issues.”

Miklusicak said he loves football because of the team approach.

“I’ve been playing since I was 8 years old,” he said. “Football is a game where you can put on a helmet and kind of disappear. You really become like one team. It’s cliché to say it’s a big family and it’s brotherhood, but it’s true.”

Miklusicak said he sees football as a microcosm for life.

“There are ups and downs, things that don’t go your way and things that go your way,” he said. “You get lucky breaks.”

Unlike many players, Miklusicak doesn’t have his sights set on the NFL.

“I like my knees,” he said. “They’ve been through enough. I love the game and it’s been great, but life is bigger than just football.”