Wayzata star RB not giving up after ACL tear
One wrong move, one untimely hit, can be all it takes to alter an athlete's life. Sometimes, it is the end of a dream. Other times, it’s another obstacle on life's journey.
Mitch Underhill, a senior at Wayzata High School, knows a lot about overcoming obstacles.
He is a member of the Trojans' football team and a nationally ranked downhill skier. He burst -- really burst -- onto the football scene as a sophomore running back in 2010. That year, he dipped, ducked and dodged to four long touchdowns in the state championship game, helping lift Wayzata to a 34-14 victory over Rosemount. He rushed for 247 yards on that day and, if you saw it, you were saying this Underhill kid has quite a future.
The exceptional talent he displayed as a sophomore caught the attention of high school football fans across Minnesota. His junior year was bound to be a memorable one. Just not the kind of memory he wanted.
He tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the first game of the season, and watched from the sidelines all season long, all the way up to the moment Wayzata earned the runner-up title in the state championship game. He wasn’t discouraged, though.
"I'll be back next year," Mitch told Fox Sports North last year. "I'll be working on it."
He spent the months following his injury in physical therapy to heal and gain strength in his leg again. After a long off-season of rehabbing, he was ready to get back on the field. The beginning of this season was a rousing success for Underhill. He ran 30 times for 221 yards and five touchdowns in the first three games since his injury.
In the fourth game this season, Wayzata went up against Minnetonka. It’s another game that Underhill won’t soon forget.
"The game was going great and we were playing a great team," Mitch said. "No doubt it was our first test to seeing what kind of a team we were going to be. Personally, I was doing as well as I would expect. I knew they could all tackle really well, so I was expecting good hard runs but then I knew sooner or later that I would be breaking out huge runs in the second half. I did have one long run, but unfortunately I got hurt."
Underhill tore his ACL. Again.
"It was no one’s fault. I don’t want anyone to think that," Mitch said. "I stretched out really far and planted and twisted awkwardly. I heard a pop and I knew it wasn’t good, so I ran off the field because I can’t stand when people lay there waiting for the trainer delaying the game. I fell down on the sidelines and when they picked me back up I couldn’t put any weight on it. Then it was stuck in one position. "
When Underhill found out that he had torn his ACL, he was in disbelief. After a year of healing from his first injury he was back to square one for the second time in his young life. The enormity of it all didn’t really hit him until he told his teammates.
"We were driving back to the school to pick up my brother, and I saw that my team was breaking down for the end of practice so I had my mom stop and drop me off real quick so I could tell them first before anyone else," Mitch said. "It was really emotional and I was crying and everyone seemed in shock, but even without me I know my team can take it all the way."
He had surgery Oct. 3 for a full repair of the ACL and meniscus. Since he’s gone through this before he has a good idea of what to expect, and he knows that he’s looking at another year of rehab. He’s not giving up, though, and he’s not going to let this be the end of his football career.
"Rehab is obviously difficult, but don’t count me out. I’ll be back -- don't worry about that," Mitch said. "I'll be working 10 times harder if I have to. Nothing is going to bring me down and I’m sure people are thinking, ‘Oh, he tore it again. He’s done.’ No. I’ll be back and I’ll work harder than I did last year."
Despite the obstacles he has to overcome, Underhill has been planning on playing Division I football since he was a sophomore, and he’s not going to give up on that.
"Obviously, D1 is out of the question right now. But the plan is to go to a year 13 school for a semester to play football, and then I can transfer out from there to a college that wants me. Will it be an easy road? No. But I’m willing to do it to play D1."
He gave up skiing after his sophomore year to focus on playing football, but he still looks at his former Buck Hill Ski Team coach and former Olympic skier Tasha McCrank as an inspiration. She tore her ACL in her junior year of high school, and her senior year, and the year after that. She didn’t give up after three consecutive ACL injuries, and went on to be a member of the US ski team and represent the United States in two Olympics (1998 and 2002).
"She never gave up on her dream of going to the Olympics, even when everyone else doubted her," Mitch said. "She kept at it, out-working everyone to make the team."
He knows he can come back and beat the odds. He knows he can make it onto a D1 team.
"I am always determined to be the hardest worker on the team no matter where I’m at," Mitch said. "I’m always trying to achieve my goals and especially my dreams. I’m not letting go of my dreams because I know I can do it, and I know I’ll be back again. I never have given up before, and I won’t now."
From here on out, the US Ski team’s motto of "All Out" will be the words that Mitch Underhill lives as he works to achieve his goals.
"The way I see things right now, I know I’ll be back," Mitch said, "and just like (McCrank) I’ll be working on achieving my dream. Always going 'All Out.'"