Small College Sports

Cornell's Mickey Hines returns from second ACL injury

Rams host rival Cornell Saturday at Ash Park

Cornell junior running back and former Mount Vernon Mustang Mickey Hines poses for a portrait on the Rams' media day at Van Metre Field at Ash Park in Mount Vernon, Iowa, on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Cornell junior running back and former Mount Vernon Mustang Mickey Hines poses for a portrait on the Rams' media day at Van Metre Field at Ash Park in Mount Vernon, Iowa, on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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MOUNT VERNON — Same injury. Same knee. Same road to recovery.

Cornell junior Mickey Hines knows the path back from an anterior cruciate ligament tear to his left knee all too well. For the second time in the last three seasons, Hines has returned from the season-ending injury.

“It feels great,” Hines said. “I had to do a lot of work. People put in hours. I have to put in twice as more. I have to recover, plus get better than I was from the year before. All summer I was working my tail off.”

Almost a year to the date he hobbled off the field for the final time last season, Hines will face the same team that sidelined him when the Rams (1-0) host rival Coe (0-1) in the Bremner Cup Series on Saturday at Ash Park, beginning at 7 p.m.

“He’s come along fine,” Cornell Coach Vince Brautigam said. “He’s not restricted to anything. He looks like the Mickey of old and I’m excited for him to get back in and see what he can do.”

Hines had modest numbers in the opening 27-21 victory against Iowa Wesleyan, rushing for 23 yards on nine carries.

“I’m close to 100 percent,” Hines said during the team’s annual media day. “There still is a mental block here and there, if I’m being honest, but it comes with it, being the second one. You have to be really cautious.”

Hines maintains a healthy perspective about the unfortunate setbacks, chuckling and simply referring to last year’s surgery as “the second one.”

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The first ACL tear occurred during the third game of his senior season at Mount Vernon High School, robbing him of the last 11 games and a chance to play in the 2015 state championship game.

Hines recovered and was voted the Rams' most improved player as freshman. He was poised to make a big impact a year ago. Hines scored two touchdowns in the first game, adding a 15-yard TD in the third quarter against the Kohawks.

Adversity struck later in the half at Coe. Hines carried for an 8-yard gain and felt a familiar pain.

“I got back up and I ran off (the field), though,” Hines said. “I had that shock and initial adrenaline. I got over there and it really hurt. I knew it. I had to restart the process.”

Football is a physical and demanding game. It can wear on the body. Returning once from a major injury is one thing, but doing it again can be a challenge. Hines talked with family and friends and even consulted former Ram Nick Brautigam, the coach’s son who shared the same injury experience.

“My son went through the same thing,” Coach Brautigam said. “I’ve always said every decision that is made here the family is involved, so he has to go home and talk to the family without any influence from me whatsoever and they ultimately come back and tells us what he’d like to do.”

His passion for football left him one choice. He had to get back in his pads.

“It’s a big love for me in my life,” Hines said. “I definitely had to pursue it.”

The surgery, the rehab, the mental and physical strain barreled in on him like a linebacker, scraping through a gap. His first step was to embrace reality and come to grips with the situation.

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“I had to realize this was my second one,” Hines said. “I had to go through this all again. It’s definitely a life-changing thing. A lot of different things had to happen since my first injury. I have to go through it all again. It was nice that I already knew what I needed to do.”

Hines was off his leg for three to four weeks, which was a challenge for the active track and football standout. He dedicated countless hours to weight training, lifting just upper body at first until his knee healed, and physical therapy.

“I’m not a very patient person,” Hines said. “Anyone will tell you I want to go, go, and go. Patience helped me.”

A major corner was turned when he was able to participate in the indoor and outdoor track seasons in the spring just four months after his procedure. Hines had made enough strides that he ran the 400-meter leg of the Rams’ conference title distance medley relay.

“I talked to my physical therapist and he said you’re all good to go (and) if you feel comfortable you can do it,” Hines said. “Coach said we’re going to put you in it and we believe you can do it. You’ve worked your tail off and deserve it.

“I think that gave me a really big boost, saying I’m back. Let’s keep on working.”

Hines worked out with teammates during the summer. He praised them for pushing him, waking him for morning workouts during the break. Once he cleared the first hurdle of getting back for track, he was confident he would be prepared for football.

“Once summer came I was feeling good,” Hines said. “When I got the knee brace, I was ready to go.

“The goal, after track was over, was to start that first game.”

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Brautigam took his time with Hines, especially since Trevhon Porterfield gained experience last year and will be a big part of the backfield.

“He is looking really good,” Brautigam said. “We limited his reps. We increase it a little bit more every day. He knows that but we are also able to rotate in more than one running back.”

The only thing left was for him to test his knee. He admitted being a little hesitant with some moves and contact, but was reassured by his physician that his knee would hold up or even be stronger. He received the proof needed during a scrimmage when he absorbed a hit and tackle to his left knee.

“I had to get that first hit, that first collision, to really wake me up,” Hines said. “It’s good.

”You just have to get through that mental block. … It helps getting hit once in a while or having a really good cut, making someone fall to say, ‘Alright, I’m back.’”

The return was a must for Hines, who grew up as the lone athlete in a family that wasn’t heavily involved in sports. Football has played a key role in his life and the aspiring track and football coach wants to be around it for as long as he can.

“That’s why I love college football, because I’m getting experience from these coaches here,” Hines said. “I’ve got two more years left. It’s fun being an upperclassman, showing these guys the ropes. I still have a little bit left to prove to cap off what this sport has been for me.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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