NORTH CANTON Days start early. They end late.
Austin Appleby doesn’t have a choice. The North Canton Hoover High School quarterback has it all.
He is 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, and smart as a whip in the classroom and on the field. He has a thunderbolt of a right arm, but he also has the soft touch of a pillow in the back corner of the end zone.
Appleby also has something else: Something to prove.
His right knee was shredded during the first quarter in the eighth game of the season against McKinley in October. He remembers the play as if it were yesterday, not six months ago.
“I was in the pocket, and things broke down,” Appleby said one day last week in between therapy sessions. “The four d-linemen for McKinley are pretty good, so I snuck up the middle, and I was scrambling for a first down. Then I went to the left sideline by our bench.”
Appleby needed 10 yards and got 11 for a first down. He had his sights set on running over a McKinley defensive back.
“He got lower than I did,” Appleby said. “And he hit me just wrong. I popped up and thought it was a Charlie horse. When I got to the huddle, things didn’t feel right.”
His world, as a blue-chip college quarterback recruit, was shattered.
Appleby tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee. Trainers and doctors at the game knew what had happened. Preliminary tests at Fawcett Stadium indicated torn ligaments.
“They said I was probably done for the day,” Appleby said. “We got an MRI and confirmed it.”
Appleby didn’t waste time, and he went to the best surgeon he could find. Dr. Christopher Kaeding performed the surgery the next week. Kaeding is Ohio State’s team doctor.
The recovery process is supposed to take nine months. Appleby got released to start throwing a football in six months.
Now he’s on a mission to prove to major college football programs his knee is fine.
LOTS OF SCHOOLS INTERESTED
“He has the brains, the toughness and work ethic to do some good things for us and hopefully have some good things happen for him,” Hoover head coach Don Hertler Jr. said.
Some recruiting analysts have him as the top QB prospect in Ohio. Scout.com’s Ohio analyst Bill Greene has Appleby at No. 2, behind Kenton’s Maty Mauk. Scout.com ranks Appleby as the 35th best QB prospect in the country.
Appleby has offers from Kent State, Akron, Toledo and Temple. He would be a steal for a Mid-American Conference school.
“He has a lot of people looking at him. Florida is interested. He’s on Ohio State’s radar. He has to show his knee is fine, which it is,” Greene said. “Once people see with their own eyes he is healthy, his offer list will grow. He’s the best college quarterback prospect I’ve seen from Stark County since Mike Hartline, and I think (Appleby) is better.
“He’s big time. Ohio State keeps warming up to him. Stark County doesn’t turn out Division I quarterbacks that often. If Ohio State offered him tomorrow, I wouldn’t bat an eye. He can play at Ohio State, and I think he can play in the NFL one day if things go right for him.”
Appleby was invited to OSU’s spring game Saturday. Connecticut is looking at him. Louisville is. Pittsburgh is sending coaches this week to watch him throw and move in the pocket.
“They know I can throw it,” Appleby said. “They want to see me move. I’m excited for them to see how far I’ve come. I’m ready.”
How did Appleby do it?
Mostly, though, perseverance.
“It was very emotional right after it happened,” Appleby said. “I was really questioning things. I heard this quote in church ... that God only gives you what you can handle. I kept hearing that. It really put things in perspective for me.
“Everything was going great, and it’s over after one play. You can’t take anything for granted. I will never take a play off because, you know, it can be taken away from you in an instant.”
Appleby searched every nook and cranny he could for rehab edges. He found a a device called an ARPwave. It is similar to electro-stimulus muscle training, only amped up. It can be painful. Dwight Freeney used it to recover from an ankle injury during Super Bowl week and play in the game in 2010.
“It is the single most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Appleby said. “But I am so much stronger because of it. They would stick it to my quads and hamstrings, jack it up, and I would have to hold squats and lunges. The first month or so, I couldn’t make it up my stairs.”
STRONG WORTH ETHIC
The typical day for Appleby starts at 5 a.m. He leaves his parent’s home by 5:30 to pick up three teammates for weight lifting at 6. Then he has class.
After class, he goes to North Canton Memorial Stadium across the street from Hoover to watch film or throw. Usually that lasts from 2 to 4:30 p.m. After that, Appleby drives to therapy, and after therapy he could have a session with the ARPwave people. Usually he gets home around 8:30, calls college coaches back, then does homework.
“Then I get to bed and get ready to do it all over again,” Appleby said. “I take pride in hard work. Nothing is handed to you. You’re only going to get out of something what you put into, and I’m putting everything into this, and hopefully I can reap the rewards.”
His work ethic impresses his coach.
“I don’t think anyone is working harder,” Hertler said. “It’s very refreshing to have a senior quarterback working as hard or harder than anyone else.”
There is something that still sticks with Appleby. He was a junior when his season ended. He was, no offense intended, his team’s best shot to turn the season around.
“I felt like I let the senior class down,” Appleby said. “I let my guys down. I wanted to be out there so bad. It’s tough how things turned out.”
Appleby caught himself.
He stopped speaking for a moment.
He is tired of feeling sorry for himself, sorry for the 2010 season. What’s done is done.
“We’re not talking about that,” he said. “It’s all about this coming year, and we’re all working extremely hard.”