Colunga ready for his return

Colunga ready for his return

HOOPESTON — Week 1 of the upcoming prep football season can't come soon enough for Anthony Colunga.

It's been more than a year since the Hoopeston Area senior has seen live game action. And it's been roughly 365 days since Colunga suffered a career-altering injury.

During Hoopeston Area/Schlarman/Armstrong-Potomac's first official practice of the 2017 campaign, Colunga busted through the backfield and went out on a passing route.

The ball sailed toward one of Colunga's teammates, who dove and struck Colunga's lower body while trying to haul in the toss. Colunga recalls sailing through the air, hitting the ground and hearing a pop.

Just like that, Colunga had torn the ACL and MCL in his left knee. His season was over before it could even begin for the fullback who was looking to make a mark.

"It was a freak accident," Colunga said.

"Me taking a year off because of a freak accident, a freak injury, I had a lot of weight on my shoulders."

Making matters worse, A-P rusher Caleb Larkin suffered his own season-ending ACL tear in the Cornjerkers' Week 1 tilt last year. In two quick moments, HASAAP was down a pair of backfield threats.

"We went from a running team to a passing team, and that really hurt us with our young quarterback having to pass the ball a lot," Colunga said of what turned into a 2-7 season. "That really affected us pretty badly."

Both Colunga and Larkin have recovered, though, as the Cornjerkers prep for their Aug. 24 opener against visiting Fisher. But Colunga won't be carrying the ball in his last high school season.

No, he's an offensive lineman now.

"This year, I thought it would be good to switch to guard and help the team there," Colunga said. "I'm a pretty good blocker. I wanted to incorporate my skill level onto my team. We lost a senior at left guard, so I knew, 'I can take this position.'"

This decision came after an arduous recovery process for Colunga.

It took him about a month to regain his footing after surgery. Four months of physical therapy followed, and Colunga began squatting typical weight — versus just his own body weight or a barbell — three months after therapy.

The end result is not merely Colunga returning to the sport he loves. He said his knee actually feels better now than it ever did before the injury.

Colunga's focus is turned to getting the Cornjerkers into the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

"I probably have the most passion for the game of football on our team," Colunga said. "I want to do so much for my team. When I got back, I told my teammates, 'It's been a year since I hit somebody. We need to go hard.'"

Colunga feels he and the HASAAP program as a whole will be overlooked, both within and beyond the Vermilion Valley Conference, after severe injuries affected the Cornjerkers' schemes last season.

Essentially, Colunga is turning his past pain into present-day motivation.

"When you come back from a major injury ... people are not going to know who you are," Colunga said. "I'm ready for people to underestimate our team and not know who people with torn ACLs last year, who they are."

HASAAP’s 2018 schedule

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Aug. 24 vs. Fisher 7 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Iroquois West 7 p.m.

Sept. 7 vs. BHRA 7 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Oakwood 7 p.m.

Sept. 21 vs. Georgetown-Ridge Farm 7 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Westville 7 p.m.

Oct. 5 at Salt Fork 7 p.m.

Oct. 12 at Dwight 7 p.m.

Oct. 20 *vs. River Ridge 1 p.m.

*At Ottawa Marquette

Sections (3):Prep Sports, Football, Sports
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