Prep Football

Josh Volk's road to recovery leads back to Cedar Rapids Xavier's starting lineup

Iowa commit returns to football field after tearing ACL and meniscus 10 months ago

Cedar Rapids Xavier’s Josh Volk (73) pumps up the crowd with his crutches during the fourth quarter of their 3A State Championship high school football game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Xavier’s Josh Volk (73) pumps up the crowd with his crutches during the fourth quarter of their 3A State Championship high school football game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Xavier’s Josh Volk remained optimistic throughout the last 10 months.

He knew he would make it back from surgery to repair a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament and torn meniscus in his right knee. The process started as week to week and progressed to day by day.

The road to return had its moments of frustration, but those were drowned out by positivity that surrounded the 6-foot-4, 320-pound senior and University of Iowa commit.

“It didn’t seem like a long journey back,” Volk said. “I had a lot of good teammates, friends and family supporting me throughout. During practice, I was always encouraging them and they were trying to get me better, too.

“It was long at some points, but I always had people there for me.”

Volk was cleared for full-go before Monday’s practice and, after a two-day evaluation, he received the go-ahead to join the second-ranked Saints lineup for Friday’s Class 3A District 4 game against Dubuque Wahlert at Rock Bowl Stadium.

“I feel 100 percent,” said Volk, who has been dressed on the sidelines and helped give pointers to his teammates during games. “My leg feels stable and it feels better than ever before.”

Xavier (5-0, 1-0) is one of five unbeaten 3A teams and ranks eighth in total offense. The Saints have extended their win streak to 31 straight games without the first-team all-state tackle the first half of the season.

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“That’s good news,” Xavier Coach Duane Schulte said of the three-year starter. “We can definitely use his help.

“I hope he can bring some experience and leadership. Help lead these guys to a good performance.”

Volk has served as a pillar in the offensive line for Xavier’s back-to-back state title teams, but last season was cut short in the state semifinals. He suffered the knee injury during the first possession of the 37-13 victory over Council Bluffs Lewis Central.

He recalled staying on the UNI-Dome turf. Volk said he thought he broke his leg at first, but medical personnel knew immediately after tests.

“Once they did that it hurt pretty badly,” Volk said. “They said it’s an ACL. You don’t even need to get an MRI. Just get scheduled for surgery. I was sad about it for a few days.”

Volk underwent surgery two days before Thanksgiving. Rehab started with range-of-motion exercises to straighten and bend his knee. He transitioned to walking with one crutch. By the end of January, he was able to shed the crutches and walk with a brace.

“I’m not going to lie, rehab was probably the hardest thing in my life for the first two months,” Volk said. “You are on crutches and that first week you had a lot of people doing things for you and I do not like that at all because I like doing stuff on my own. It really sucked.

“It was tough at times. I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel and I could get through it.”

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Weight room workouts followed with upper-body lifts and physical therapy exercises for his leg. Volk was able to practice with restrictions from the season’s start. He has eased his way to this point.

“He worked his way through it and I know he’s really hit it hard this last month,” Schulte said. “He’s trying to get ready to go.”

Volk’s stock rose in previous seasons, earning a 3-star ranking from Rivals.com. Volk was courted by multiple Division-I football programs, but committed to Iowa in March. He said the Iowa staff, including offensive line coach Tim Polasek, has been in regular contact to offer support and check on his well-being.

“They were really great through the whole process,” Volk said. “They were really supportive.”

Some linemen are cerebral and thrive by their ability to understand blocking schemes. Size and strength can be key factors. Some are technically sound, while others are mean and nasty. Volk has become one of the Midwest’s top blockers, demonstrating each of those traits at different times, according to Schulte.

“I think he’s trying to figure that stuff out,” Schulte said. “He has shown bursts of all that stuff, so he’s definitely got some expertise on the technical side. He has the mobility. He has the mean streak, occasionally. He’s got the knowledge when he pays attention to his coaches.

“He has all the tools. It’s a matter of putting them all together in one fell swoop.”

Schulte said the Saints won’t change their game plan with his return. They embrace a “next man in mentality” and maintain the same approach, regardless of personnel. He praised linemen Ryan Cook, Cole Smith, Matt Weih, Michael Steffen and Colby Martin and tight ends Nick Kramer and Mitch Helmkamp for their performance without Volk.

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“They’ve had to step up their game,” Schulte said. “They’ve been pretty good.”

Xavier was cautious with bringing him back but Schulte doesn’t expect any limitations Friday as long as Volk feels fine.

Volk realizes he is only guaranteed four more games in his high school career and wants to make the most of each week. He is anxious to get back on the field after the long road to recovery.

“I’ve just been imagining getting back on the field with my teammates, helping them and playing with them because that’s the best part,” Volk said. “I want to make as many memories as I can with my teammates.”

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

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