Adam DePietro was sure that he had torn his ACL.
From the moment a helmet hit his right knee on just the third play of the Chesapeake Bowl all-star game on Dec. 30, the Northwestern tackle commitment knew that he had suffered the injury football players dread more than just about any other. He heard it pop, he felt the pain, and he had to be carted off the field, unable to walk on his own.
Less than two weeks after living the dream of leading Lancaster (Pa.) Catholic to the state championship in his senior year, he was now enduring a nightmare -- in a post-season all-star game, of all things.
DePietro went to see an orthopedist the following day to get an MRI, and then he had to wait a couple days for the results. For three days he carried around the fear that he had blown out his knee and that he would be sidelined for at least a year. That, of course, would also mean that his freshman season at Northwestern was down the tubes.
Then, the results came in. The MRI, incredibly, showed that there was no ligament damage whatsoever. The pop DePietro heard was his knee dislocating and hitting the bottom of his femur. He had torn some cartilage, but that was all. It was the best-possible scenario.
"I was so happy," said DePietro with a giggle.
Happy, but not entirely healthy. DePietro had avoided a catastrophic injury, but he will undergo surgery nonetheless. He is scheduled to have cartilage removed from his knee on Monday, and what the doctor finds when he goes inside DePietro's knee will determine what sort of recovery time he will face.
If the damage is limited to his cartilage, he will be walking the next day and will have about a three-week rehab. If the doctor decides he has to tighten a ligament in DePietro's knee to prevent future dislocations from occurring, he will be on crutches for quite some time and have to undergo three months of rehab.
He's hoping for the former, but, after agonizing about what he was "99-percent certain" was a much more serious ACL injury, he feels lucky no matter what the outcome.
The irony is that DePietro didn't particularly enjoy playing in the Chesapeake Bowl, which pitted all-stars from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware against their counterparts from Virginia, West Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland. DePietro's North team wound up winning 21-7, but, even without the injury, DePietro says, "The whole experience was miserable. I didn't really have a good time."
If Dec. 30 was rock bottom for DePietro, then Dec. 17 was the pinnacle. That was the day that Lancaster Catholic beat Tyrone, 17-7, to capture the Pennsylvania Class 2A title. It also represented the culmination of a 16-0 season.
A Disney screenwriter couldn't have written a better finish.
"It was amazing, a dream come true," he said. "It was the perfect way to cap a high school career."
And, he hopes, a perfect way to begin a new one in Evanston next season.