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Paul Klee: Years after 'DIY' knee rehab, Buffs football star Phillip Lindsay a role model for Colorado kids

By: Paul Klee
August 23, 2017 Updated: August 24, 2017 at 7:07 am

BOULDER — The good doctor can smile now. He can roam the sideline at Folsom Field and share something the college football world should know: Phillip Lindsay should not be doing what he’s doing.

It was eight months after Lindsay tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that Dr. Ted Layne, a physical therapist in Boulder who has worked with University of Colorado athletes on and off since 1977, got his first look at Lindsay, then a freshman running back with big hair, big dreams and a big, broken heart; eight months since Lindsay played two games at Denver South High on a blown-out knee; eight months, and the bum knee had the strength, range of motion and scar tissue of a knee recovering from an ACL tear ... 30 years ago.

“People will remember when ACLs were first being restructured, they were in a cast from toe to hip,” Layne said Wednesday. “When you got out, you had a twig for a thigh and a frozen knee.”

That was Lindsay then, a twig for a thigh and a frozen knee. This is Lindsay now: a fifth-year senior at the center of a fully loaded Buffs offense that plans to lead the Pac-12 in scoring; a three-time team-elected captain (the third in program history); 799 yards shy of Rodney Stewart's all-purpose record at Colorado. 

The answer to the central question — How? — stands as a testament to the athletics training staffs that rarely get the credit they deserve for keeping the masses entertained on autumn Saturdays.

“I got with a man named Ted Layne,” Lindsay said. “Because of him, I’m able to do what I’m doing now. If it wasn’t for that man, I wouldn’t be here right now. He saved my football career.”

That’s simplifying it, of course, and if you know Lindsay, he would thank everyone by name — parents, student trainers, tutors, coaches, ushers, janitors, fans — and smother each with a Phillip Lindsay hug. But the point is taken. A career like Lindsay’s doesn’t happen without a ton of help along the way. His help was just more pronounced and dramatic than most.

Lindsay’s knee rehab began in his parents’ living room in Aurora. It was DIY. He would lay on the floor with his father, Troy Lindsay, bending and stretching his aching knee the best they knew how. He said visits to a physical therapist were $100-$200 a pop, and, for a family of seven, those kinds of funds weren’t in the cards. “Come on, man,” he said. “Who can afford that?”

“It was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced,” Lindsay said, “with all that scar tissue rubbing together.”’

“It normally is not a career-ending injury, but the way he was going without any formal treatment from anybody it was headed toward being a career-ending injury,” Layne said.

The doctor added: “He’s a brave kid. Just a brave kid.”

One who bleeds Colorado, the 303, everything about his state,” said CU coach Mike MacIntyre. Those “Native” bumper stickers were made for Lindsay. He was born here (in 1994, the year the late Rashaan Salaam won the Heisman), raised here, educated from kindergarten through his college graduation in May here – a fact he invariably brings up within 5 minutes of an introduction. 

“You know how there’s guys at your job when you say, ‘I don’t really want to see that guy today?’ But with Phillip it’s like, ‘I can’t wait to see that dude. That’s the dude I love to see,'” MacIntyre said. “He lights the room up. He gives me a passion. He’s why I do what I do.”

There’s nothing cookie-cutter about Lindsay. His unorthodox opinions — from manners to music — are that of an 86-year-old grandfather who begins stories with back in my day ...

“My father and my mother made sure they raised us to respect people. No matter how much you do, you’re not better than the next person. We’re all humans,” Lindsay said. “It’s about respecting people. It’s about being nice. Just say hello to someone. It could make their day! Open the door for a young woman who’s walking in the room. How hard is that?”

With a pause, he added, “Should I stop? You know what I mean?”

Nah, man. Don’t ever stop.

“When you see somebody struggling, help them. That’s how it used to be,” he said. “Now kids these days are all into themselves. They’re into their phones. They’re into this rap music. They think that’s how it’s supposed to be done. It’s not. Be good to people.”

For the record, Lindsay prefers Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson when his family gathers in the backyard to play Dominoes. He has no patience for the racial division folks perceive today.

“I don’t get it, man. I’m black and white. I’m mixed,” he said. “I’m supposed to be the bridge between blacks and whites. I’m supposed to stop all that. How can you not like something that you are? I’m both! I’m black! And I’m white! I look at people as human beings. I don’t look at the color of the person. Who cares what you are? I don't know, man. That's how I feel.”

It was two days before his freshman training camp at CU when Lindsay finally achieved full range of motion with his knee, two months after doctors told MacIntyre they were uncertain if the running back would play football again. That season coaches named Lindsay the offensive scout team player of the year for his role-playing work as Washington’s Bishop Sankey, USC’s Buck Allen and “all the (Oregon) Ducks,” as he put it. Four years and one shaky rehab later, he’s one of them. At some point the CU Athletics Hall of Fame should add the best hair in the room.

“To this day, I could win all the awards in the world — the Heisman, whatever — and the best award I would have was winning scout team player of the year,” Lindsay said. “It was a proud moment for me to just get recognized for helping the team. And just to be playing, I guess.”

The good doctor, and everyone, can smile now.

Twitter: @bypaulklee

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