Defensive back Orion Edwards figures his recuperation from last year’s surgery following a knee injury is right on track.
His plan is to be back on the field with the Gryphons and taking hits at training camp in mid-August.
“That’s kind of where the timeline is,” he said. “The first day of training camp I’m ready to go and ready to get into it.”
Edwards tore the ACL in his left leg at last year’s East-West Bowl in Montreal.
“I hurt it in May, May 14th at East-West,” he said. “I was covering a receiver on a one-on-one and he got a little bit farther away from me so I tried to take one more step to kind of hit the ball down. I stepped and I guess I kind of landed weird and that tore my ACL.”
While Edwards knew he hurt his knee on the play, he didn’t feel it was as bad as it was because there wasn’t much pain with it.
Spring camp will be nine months for me. Some people do come back in nine months, but there’s not really much point for me to be back yet because there’s no games coming up. It’s all preseason and all prep stuff so they’d rather me take my time and get my knee strong and get as powerful as I can and really come back flying into next season. Surgery was June 28th so June 28th coming up will be 12 months so it’ll be about 13 ½ months going into training camp.
“I actually didn’t know until I got back here in Guelph,” he said. “It didn’t really hurt. I describe the pain as when you hit your funny bone. It was a very nervy pain in the centre of my knee and on the left side of my knee. My therapist was telling me that you’re either in a lot of pain or you usually don’t know it happened. I was blessed that I wasn’t in a lot of pain. It was kind of the didn’t-know-what-happened situation.”
He texted the team’s athletic therapist Teresa Budwal and arranged to get the knee checked out on the day after he got back. He thought Budwal was joking when she told him the news.
“I was just like ‘Come on T. Let’s be real here,’” he said. “I saw John Rush when he tore his ACL in front of me in my first year. I saw it when he tore his ACL and he was in a tremendous amount of pain. I saw the way his knee went and my knee didn’t go that way or do that. After the MRI it was a fact that I did tear my ACL.
“It wasn’t a shock, but it was definitely unsettling. It took time to just really just take it in.”
That meant there’d be no football for Edwards the rest of 2016. He’d have to miss the OUA season.
“It was extremely tough sitting out,” he said. “I was contributing to the team, but not in the same way – not on the field. It was tough to watch the close losses: Windsor, Laurier, Mac. It was definitely tough to watch us lose against Western at Homecoming. I think one of the toughest things was watching all of the other injuries and the other adversity that we went through in the season like losing a bunch of starters and a bunch of seniors in fifth year.”
While he was hurt and wouldn’t play, Edwards still wanted to be around the team and chip in wherever he could. He went to head coach Kevin MacNeill to see what his role with the team would be during the season.
“One thing he really stressed was ‘I want you to be around.’ I said ‘I want to be around.’ I couldn’t actually picture going to university without playing football or being around the football team,” Edwards said. “It would be too weird for me, too much of a culture shock for me. I wanted to make sure I was around the team.”
That meant helping out doing little things at practice whenever he wasn’t rehabbing his knee.
“I made sure I was doing all of my therapy exercises either during practice or in workouts. I was always trying to make sure I could do as much as I can without further aggravating my knee.”
He also watched a lot of the reps in practice and game film, too.
“I watched each one-on-one rep and watched each skelly rep and so on. It’s a lot different. I actually came from a film meeting this morning watching film not of myself, but of others. It’s a lot different.”
And he became the team’s chaplain last year.
“That was a really cool role and a cool way to get deeper with the guys on the team.”
That role spawned out of his involvement with Athletes in Action.
“I lead Athletes in Action here on campus. Our team chaplain, he had to reduce his role a little bit. He also heads volleyball ministries here in Guelph and for the rest of AIA Canada so he had to focus a little bit more on that and focus a little bit more on campus stuff. He didn’t ask me straight up, but he kind of challenged me in a way. He said ‘You know, I’ll be stepping back from chapel. What other ideas do you have for it?’”
Edwards thought a while about taking over the chaplain’s role with the team.
“I took a week to kind of think and pray about it and I definitely knew I wanted to lead the team in that sense,” he said. “I understood what their mission was and how they wanted to help athletes incorporate faith in sport. I wanted to continue having that with the team.”
A criminal justice and public policy student with a minor in family and child studies, Edwards didn’t let his studies suffer while he was on the sidelines.
“I usually take four courses first semester, but last (fall’s) semester I took five,” he said. “It was a little stressful to be honest, but out of that stress I was really blessed to have the highest average I’ve ever had ever.”
This summer he’ll keep working to get ready for training camp and a return to action with the Gryphons.
“It definitely will be different,” he said. “I’m not taking any summer courses so that’s one (difference) for the school side. It’s going to be one of my last few semesters here at Guelph. I’ll be doing a lot more single-leg exercises to make sure each leg is strong together and there’s no deficit in between. I’ve been doing a lot more stretching and a lot more rolling out.
“It’s going to be a lot more football focused.”
This is the year Edwards could be drafted into the CFL, but the injury is likely to hurt his ranking. Remember, Rush didn’t get drafted the spring before his national defensive player of the year award season.
“Playing pro, that future is still available and I’m still able to do that. I think it might happen more after my fifth year,” he said. “It’s definitely still a possibility and a dream of mine.”
For now, his main football focus is getting back into uniform for the Gryphons. He’s back doing workouts with the team, but has to stay away from any contact drills.
“I’m back to running and I’m getting a little bit more into team participation stuff, mostly just doing DB skills stuff and not actually in pads in contact,” he said. “I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel in this journey.”