A little more than a year ago, Garrett Morrison was writhing on Ooltewah's football practice field.
"The pain was unbelievable," the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Morrison said of the feeling in his right knee that was struck from the side while he was engaged in a block while playing left tackle. "I've never felt any pain like that in my life."
That pain ultimately went away. What hasn't gone away is the mental anguish of not being able to play football again.
But, that's about to change.
For the first time since Sept. 9, 2011, Morrison is expected to return to action Friday when the Owls play at Lenoir City (9-2) in a TSSAA Class 5A second-round state-playoff game. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Morrison's injury included damage to his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments and meniscus. And that wasn't all.
"When it happened I was standing right behind him," Ooltewah coach Shannon Williams said. "It was gruesome. When he left the practice field that day on a stretcher, he had no pulse in his foot. It was pretty scary. There was a lack of bloodflow to his foot. We weren't thinking, 'Can he play football again?' We were hoping he didn't lose his leg."
Morrison's first of three surgeries was that September. He's been through countless hours of rehabilitation.
Garrett's father, Larry, said his son's second surgery was the same day Ooltewah hosted Shelbyville in the first round of the playoffs last season. Garrett was so intent on going, Larry took him and parked in a handicap space where his son could watch from the vehicle.
When time allowed, Garrett continued showing up for practices and meetings. He wore his jersey on game days. He was part of the team, but he wanted to play football again.
"Football has been my life since I started playing it in fourth grade," he said. "I just really love the sport. From the first day I played I fell in love with it."
Garrett's last surgery was in February. He returned for a check-up in late August and left the office that day optimistic. Then in September, his last scheduled visit to the doctor, he was released medically, but not for contact sports until February.
"It crushed him," his father said. "He really worked hard trying to get back. He was actually faster than he was before."
Garrett refused to accept his apparent fate. Dad knew that and decided he would try to help his son one last time. When the doctor ruled out Garrett playing contact sports, he did at least say November would be the earliest.
The Morrisons were able to work in an early-morning appointment 10 days ago. After an anxious 40-minute wait in the lobby, the doctor saw Garrett. Soon he was pushing, pulling, yanking and tugging on his right leg. When he was through, Larry said he looked over at him and said, "That's a good knee."
Of his son's reaction, Dad said: "I don't believe I could've bought him a brand new Corvette and made him smile any more."
Garrett couldn't wait to get to practice that afternoon.
"Nothing was going to ruin my day," Garrett said. "Just being able to dress out and being able practice was good enough for me."
Garrett had to have the team to advance to the playoffs for his dream of playing again to become a reality. Despite the Owls (8-3) starting the year 2-3, he said he had faith in them.
Although he didn't play in last Friday's home playoff victory over Anderson County, he was in uniform. His teammates chose him as one of the captains.
Williams said he doesn't want to disrupt the continuity of this year's offensive line. Instead, he's got Morrison playing nose tackle, where some help was needed anyway.
"He's one of our best players," Williams said. "He's shown nothing in a week and a half of practice to change that. He's just a football player.
"We rotate five or six guys on the defensive line every four or five snaps. I anticipate he's going to create some havoc and make some plays. I have no reason to think he won't. And I expect him to enjoy the heck out of it."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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