Raymore-Peculiar football coach Tom Kruse remembers bringing his son home from the hospital after undergoing knee surgery. He needed a wheelchair to get his son to the car to gingerly load him up for the ride home.
When Kruse heard that Chris McKinzy Jr. walked out of the hospital after his knee surgery, it didn’t surprise him. It just left him more in awe of the Panthers’ three-sport athlete.
“The one thing about Chris is nobody can question his work ethic, his want-to,” Kruse said. “He’s just a little different than anybody else.”
It was just four months ago that McKinzy, a senior, tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee during track practice. For most athletes, that could mean a good year of healing and rehabilitation.
But when football practice began Aug. 6, McKinzy was back on the field with the rest of the Panthers. He’s not cleared for contact, and there’s no timetable yet as to when he’ll get to play.
But there’s little doubt in Kruse’s mind, or McKinzy’s that Ray-Pec’s top running back will be playing under the lights sometime this season.
“Leg is fine; cuts are fine. Everything feels good.” McKinzy said. “It’s been three months but I’m coming back, so I would say it’s a blessing.”
McKinzy was running hurdles during that April practice when his left leg caught one awkwardly and bent the wrong way. At first, he thought all he had was a hyperextended knee.
“I didn’t know it tore because I didn’t hear no noise - no snapping or popping,” McKinzy said. “I got up and walked fine, but when I got my MRI they said it was torn.”
The MRI exam showed that McKinzy’s ACL was completely torn, as was his meniscus. That put an end to his track season and a chance at a second consecutive Class 5 110-meter hurdles state title.
Another track season seemed possible if the recovery and rehabilitation went well. With a little luck, he could be ready for basketball.
But his senior football season certainly appeared in jeopardy.
“It was kind of devastating and a little scary,” McKinzy said. “When everybody heard about it, it was like, ‘we never thought that could happen to you.’ But with my mindset, I know I’ll come back even stronger. So I really wasn’t even scared to come back for football.”
McKinzy went to rehabilitation sessions three times a week and still found time to be with his teammates for summer camps and workouts. But Kruse knows all too well the timetable for knee injuries, and he figured the chances of having him back in the backfield would be slim at best.
Now he knows he figured wrong.
“He’s not released (for contact) yet but we think that’s coming shortly, which is amazing,” Kruse said. “But Chris is not your normal athlete. I tell him he’s a freak. With his God-given ability and the fact that he works so hard to be better … nothing would surprise me.”
Kruse doesn’t know when McKinzy will be cleared to play, and he isn’t expecting him back until midway through the season. Without him, Ray-Pec will be missing a speedy back who led the team with 679 rushing yards on 183 carries with six touchdowns last season.
Until McKinzy does return, Kruse will be counting seniors Brandon Rayos, who saw considerable playing time at running back late last season, and senior fullback Austin Gardner to carry the rushing load.
“We’re excited to get him back,” Kruse said. “I know it went from we’re not anticipating having him at all to there’s a chance. And if there’s a chance with him, I like it. He’ll be back.”
McKinzy is certain of it, too, and he’s certain that his knee will be as good as new.
Even if he is certainly way ahead of schedule.
“I’ve been able to cut on it, run on it, everything,” McKinzy said. “So everything is fine. I’m really back, I would say.”