Updated: October 3, 2012 at 12:00 am
The lingering impact of Keenan Britton’s knee injury may never go away.
Not in the leg, mind you, that’s fine. It’s the transformation that he has shown as a young man because of that injury suffered two years ago that marks the biggest difference in the Falcon senior running back.
“I’ve definitely become a lot more humble than I was in the past,” Britton said. “In these past two years I’ve had a lot happen to me. When it hits you, you’ve got to deal with it.”
Britton was a sophomore sensation in 2010, and he didn’t mind telling anybody about it. He burst onto the scene with a 213-yard performance, leading the Falcons to a 26-9 victory in a matchup of unbeatens with Mesa Ridge and its ballyhooed senior runner Phillip Rhodes.
“I wanted to put on a show tonight, I wanted to let the people know my name,” Britton said that night. “I wanted them to know Keenan Britton is in town.”
That was the high point.
The low followed shortly after.
Two weeks later, the Falcons were the area’s top-ranked team when they hosted Pine Creek. On his ninth carry, Britton went into the pile and came out with a torn ligament. The Falcons lost the game 47-14 and Britton was finished for the season.
Britton’s story could have gone one of two basic directions at that point. He made sure it was the right direction.
“(The injury) put me in the weight room, which I enjoyed because it got my work ethic a lot higher,” said Britton, the veins popping out of his temple and arms providing constant evidence of his intensity with the weights.
ACL injuries are not the athletic death sentence they were 20 years ago, but the recovery still takes time. Britton ran track that spring, but his times had understandably dropped a step (from 23.75 seconds to 24.07 in the 200 meters).
Last fall, he was back on the football field and was good – running for 836 yards and eight touchdowns in 11 games – but the explosiveness wasn’t quite there and he was held to 35 or fewer yards five times.
“I thought I was 100 percent, but the coaches would probably tell you something else,” Britton said.
There’s no doubt he’s back now.
Through five games Britton has run for 579 yards and eight touchdowns despite sharing the offensive load with a couple of teammates – Kalen Ballage and Brodie Hicks – who have Division I offers.
Britton’s speed is all the way back – indicated by a personal-best 22.45 in the 200 in May – and coach Trevor Hudson raves about the ferociousness Britton displays with or without the ball, often providing highlights simply with his blocks.
“He’s a more physical downhill runner,” Hudson said, comparing Britton’s style to that of San Francisco 49ers star Frank Gore. “Arm tackles will not bring him down. Usually the first guy will not bring him down. He runs hard, he runs physical and he runs with an attitude. That’s the kind of running back you want. And if you give him space, he’s got the wheels to get away.”
None of this is a great change from what Britton displayed two years ago. It’s when the helmet comes off and he begins to talk that the changes are so evident.
He no longer wants to talk about himself, but when he does he mentions the 3.7 GPA he earned last semester, his role as a leader for the undefeated Falcons and what college scenario might be best for him (Colorado and Wyoming are among the schools to have shown interest, but no official offers have been made).
As for playing at Pine Creek on Friday, Britton downplayed it – a move he most assuredly would not have made two years ago. He hasn’t dwelled on the fact that the injury occurred against the Eagles or that Falcon has been outscored 99-23 in the past two years by Pine Creek, which has at least temporarily lost its aura of invincibility with a 1-4 start.
“It’s just another game, it really is,” Britton said. “It’s not about me having revenge against them. It’s just about winning the battle that night. They’re another team, dude. The team that executes to their abilities wins. That’s how I take it.”
So, this is the new Keenan Britton. The energy and vitality haven’t changed and the smile remains plastered on, but there’s an air of appreciation and perspective that did not exist when he first made sure everybody knew his name.
Maybe it’s the product of Hudson’s system. The coach was hired during the spring of Britton’s sophomore year.
“These guys have really bought into the team aspect,” said Hudson, whose Falcons are 5-0 and have outscored opponents 191-34. “We’ve taken individualism out of it. We feel like if we do what we’re supposed to do as a team, individual accomplishments with show through the team.”
That’s nice, but how many coaches preach anything else? No, this kind of change had to come from within. And it came from Britton reaching what, to him, was rock bottom.
“The worst has happened. I have hit the bottom of the bottom,” Britton said of his recuperation. “I was out watching my team play. You can’t get worse than that.”