Vermilion’s Forrest Boyd had a lot riding on the West Shore Conference opener against Elyria Catholic on Dec. 6.
Boyd was on the verge of completing an incredible comeback — a return to game action just over four months after undergoing surgery to replace a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during the Sailors’ annual summer trip to a camp at Youngstown State.
So Boyd was appreciative when the Sailors student body, which was notoriously rowdy, had a surprise for him — an orange out.
“It actually was a ‘ginger’ out,” teammate Cameron Kuhn said, referring to Boyd’s distinctive red hair.
The road back from the late June knee injury — he had surgery July 25 — to that early December night was not easy, though given Boyd’s uncommon, rapid recovery, one might think so. Rather, his quick return was the product of hours of painful, tedious work, fueled by a desire to not sit out his senior season.
The Sailors, coincidentally, were playing a conference foe — North Ridgeville — in Youngstown when Boyd suffered his injury. He said he elevated for a rebound, then felt a pop and “the worst pain I’ve ever felt.” But he wasn’t actually diagnosed with a torn ACL until undergoing an MRI after Mount Union’s summer football camp, which he attended but didn’t play.
The July 25 surgery will forever be a weird anniversary for Boyd — he interrupted a reporter’s question about the specific date far before it was completed — but the painful injury and memorable surgery were just the beginning of his amazing journey back to the court.
It started with a machine he had at home — Boyd had to insert his leg into the device simply to help bend it. He went to physical therapy at Cleveland Clinic three times a week, and when he wasn’t there he’d be at the high school, training with Cleveland Clinic and Vermilion trainer Julie Iemma.
He was on two crutches for about a month, then one, and finally was able to walk without them.
He progressed on the stationary bike from a half-rotation — for weeks he couldn’t bend his leg to make a full one — to finally being able to do full cardiovascular work on the bike.
He spent hours at home, simply picking up his quad — “I had to do that all day, every day, until I could do a full leg lift on my own.”
Eighteen weeks after his surgery — around Thanksgiving — Boyd was cleared to resume full activities.
“He always had a positive attitude, even though there were things that were difficult and he didn’t necessarily want to do,”
said Iemma, who has worked with the Sailors for 12 years through a contract with the Clinic. “He was determined and persevered.
He was not a typical kid. He was determined to get back.”
Iemma said a typical recovery time for someone Boyd’s age would range from seven to ninth months.
But Boyd had motivation.
The three-sport athlete knew he’d miss his senior football season, and was devastated to miss playing quarterback. He also knew with Kuhn back and on the verge of breaking the school scoring record, and Kyle Nader alongside to form a potent trio, that the Sailors had a chance to make some noise on the basketball court.
He credited many with support during his arduous rehab, including his mother and father, Jamie and Shane, along with basketball coach Kurt Habermehl, Iemma and his Sailors teammates. Most of all, though, Boyd said he missed the competition, and being on the field or court.
“There was absolutely no way I was going to miss another season after missing football,” Boyd said. “No way.”
And while Vermilion didn’t meet its WSC goal as Lakewood dominated the league, the Sailors have big ideas for the Division II district tournament at Westlake, in which Vermilion will open with Padua on Wednesday night. The Sailors finished 15-7 overall and 10-4 in the WSC after an overtime victory over North Ridgeville on Friday on Senior Night.
“He didn’t want to be denied another season, but I was very skeptical of him making it back. It’s a testament to him,” said Habermehl. “He makes our team much better. He has a unique ability as a big man to play center, but also play multiple other positions. I’ve played him at point guard, and he’s very capable of handling that. He’s just a great player.”
Kuhn, too, is glad Boyd is back. Kuhn and Nader handle the bulk of the ball-handling and scoring duties for the Sailors — and thus get the most attention from opponents. Having Boyd in the lineup and able to take some pressure off the duo has been a boost for Vermilion.
“We feed off each other,” Kuhn said. “When Forrest got injured, we and he were in shock — how could this happen to such a hard worker? There were times when he talked about how tough the rehab was, but he made it back and we need him.”