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Globe West High School Football

Fighting back from injury

Natick High junior Jack Lowell, who badly injured his knee last year, puts on the brace that he will wear this season. Natick High junior Jack Lowell, who badly injured his knee last year, puts on the brace that he will wear this season. (Photos By John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Lenny Megliola
Globe Correspondent / August 21, 2011

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The play is called waggle-left. It was Natick High’s first possession of the 2010 season, against Brookline. The coaches felt waggle-left would work.

Sophomore fullback Jack Lowell, a solid 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, ran the pass route out in the flat.

“We nailed it every time in practice and scrimmages,’’ said Lowell. “I love that play.’’

He loved the play even more that night, because it had worked in a game that counted in the Bay State Conference standings. He caught the ball and then was stopped almost at the goal line, a gain of 16 yards. “I’d never scored a touchdown in my life,’’ said Lowell. “I’d always played on defense.’’

He had just missed his first trip to the end zone. No problem, he had the rest of the game, the rest of the season, to put up six. Lots of time.

Then, suddenly, he had no time at all.

As he caught the ball, his right knee met up violently with the helmet of a Brookline defender. It took him a minute or two to realize what had happened. “I didn’t feel the pain right away, all I saw was people staring at me,’’ he said. “It was weird.’’

He tried to stand, but couldn’t. A member of the medical staff asked him a question. It wasn’t “Where does it hurt? or “Are you dizzy?’’

“They asked me where my parents were,’’ Lowell said. That’s when he knew this was serious.

“We knew right away he had torn knee ligaments,’’ said Natick coach Mark Mortarelli.

Junior linebacker Mike Dunlap has been best friends with Lowell since kindergarten. “It was awful watching Jack get hurt,’’ said Dunlap. They had gone to the same preseason camp, Dunlap said, and “he did everything he could to be the starting fullback.’’

Lowell thought he might miss some games. He would rehab, do everything the doctors said, and return to the team. But he had torn his anterior cruciate, medial collateral, and posterior cruciate ligaments, three of the four major knee ligaments. Lowell never played another down last season.

“It was like taking three legs from a chair,’’ said Lowell. “I went to probably five different doctors. One was worried if I’d be able to walk again. That was so hard to hear. I was thinking about playing football again. The pain was awful. Mentally, it was harder. All the work I had put in.’’ He also missed the entire lacrosse season last spring.

On Nov. 23, eight weeks after the injury, surgery was performed at Mass. General Hospital by Dr. Thomas Gill, the medical director for the Red Sox.

Lowell will be at Memorial Field with his Red & Blue teammates tomorrow morning for the first day of practice. He’s aware that an injury like he sustained can end a football player’s career. He understood the possibility, but he wasn’t buying it. Maybe others couldn’t come back. He would.

“I thought it’s going to be different for me if I worked hard,’’ he said. “I listened to everyone’s story. I felt I could make my own story.’’

So far, he has. It’s a long road, but, he said, “the knee feels fine. I ran a faster 40 than I did last year. I’m faster and stronger. It’s weird.’’

He doesn’t even think about the knee when he’s on the field, which is a lot, since he plays linebacker too. But he has his moments. Fullbacks and linebackers play a grueling, physical game. Off the field Lowell admits there are moments when “I’m thinking how it’s going to react this year.’’

Mortarelli wonders too.

“Hopefully he stays healthy because he can really help us. He has a physical and mental toughness. He likes the contact. He’s a throwback. A true fullback, like in the ’80s in an ‘I’-formation.’’

Lowell watched Natick’s games from the sidelines last season.

“It was brutal,’’ he said. Lowell and Robbie Beausoleil, a linebacker who was also out for the season, “would be thinking what we’d do if we were in the game.’’

He is getting a second chance. Mortarelli kept tabs on Lowell during the offseason. “He kept saying ‘We’re going to get you in the end zone this year!’ ’’ said Lowell.

He received plenty of encouragement from assistant coach Scott Dixon, who had had reconstructive knee surgery.

Lowell and Dunlap spent their freshman year at Xaverian Brothers in Westwood. The competition, Lowell thought, would be a step up from the Bay State Conference. He was the fullback on the freshman team, but the bigger school didn’t feel right. “It just wasn’t the school for me.’’

Dunlap felt the same way. “I wanted to be with my friends,’’ he said. They returned to Natick.

“It’s more like a community,’’ Lowell said.

In June, at the Boston College football camp, Lowell had another encounter with a helmet. This time it was his hand that was broken.

“It was a linebacker drill,’’ said Lowell. “I hit someone’s helmet with the back of my hand.’’ He has fully recovered.

But you can see why Jack Lowell can’t wait for the season to begin. The sooner he gets in the end zone, the better.

Lenny Megliola can be reached at lennymegs@aol.com.