Rashad Kinlaw caught a pass over the middle just beyond the 40-yard line. The Absegami High School senior was playing in a June 30 exhibition game for Team USA against Samoa in Texas.
Kinlaw used his speed to cut to the outside and pick up a first down. He crossed the 50-yard line before a shoe-string tackle knocked him out of bounds.
Kinlaw tried to bounce up and return to the huddle, but he couldn't put any weight on his right leg.
"I couldn't walk," he said.
A shocked Kinlaw fell and then crawled on his knees along the sideline with one thought.
"Not again," he said.
Kinlaw had broken his right leg for the second time in nine months. He also broke the leg when he was tackled from behind against St. Augustine Prep on Oct. 21, 2011.
Tonight, the talented quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back and University of Notre Dame recruit is expected to make his season debut when Absegami (4-2) hosts Hammonton (4-2) at 7 p.m. Both teams need a win to enhance their playoff chances.
"I'm going to be hyped up with my adrenalin pumping," Kinlaw said.
Kinlaw, 17, established himself as one of the state's top players as a sophomore and junior. The 6-foot-2, 184-pound senior's ability to run and throw baffled opposing defenses. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds and Notre Dame recruited him as a cornerback, even though he rarely played that position as a sophomore and junior.
But after the June injury, fans, media and recruiting experts wondered if Kinlaw would ever play for Absegami again.
Braves coach Dennis Scuderi Jr. was watching the Team USA game online when the injury happened. The game was part of a eight-team Under-19 tournament in Austin, Texas. Kinlaw wanted to play for Team USA in part because he had missed so much time last fall.
"I felt great," Kinlaw said. "I was out there with some of the best players in the country."
But then the injury happened and the second break was worst than the first. Kinlaw's ankle was displaced and there was ligament damage. Kinlaw underwent two surgeries - one a week after the accident and the other in August. Doctors inserted a plate and a screw into his leg to stabilize his ankle and ligaments.
Kinlaw verbally committed last March to attend Notre Dame. Many players in his position would have considered skipping their senior year and just concentrated on getting healthy for college.
Kinlaw never thought that way.
"This senior class is a close-knit group," Scuderi said. "They play for each other and (Kinlaw) really wanted to be part of what they're doing."
Scuderi also never doubted that Kinlaw would return because of his competitiveness.
"He loves playing football," the coach. "I don't know any 17-year-old kid, especially when you're pretty talented, who doesn't want the opportunity to play in football games."
Kinlaw stayed upbeat this summer and fall as he worked to return from the June injury because he had made a complete recovery after the first broken leg.
"I didn't want to put myself in a funk because I knew (a full recovery) was possible," he said.
Scuderi was careful with Kinlaw's comeback. Each week, reporters and recruiting services from the around the country would call Scuderi to ask about Kinlaw's status.
"Everybody - his parents, the training staff - was more concerned about making sure he was completely healthy before he came back and not where we were in the season," Scuderi said.
Kinlaw also found it difficult standing on the sidelines watching his teammates compete without him.
"It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do," he said.
Kinlaw dressed in uniform for the first time two weeks ago against Egg Harbor Township. He did not play as the Braves controlled most of the game and won 28-7. Absegami was off last week.
The Braves did more than just survive without Kinlaw. They are No. 7 in The Press Elite 11. Running backs David Hood and Tyler Bing are among the region's best and Mike Nolan (56-of-99 for 690 yards) has developed into a winning quarterback.
Scuderi doesn't want Kinlaw's return to dwarf what the Braves have already achieved. The coach also doesn't want Kinlaw to feel like he has to win tonight's game by himself.
"We're not going to put that kind of pressure on him in first game back where he needs to be 'the guy'," Scuderi said. "We have other weapons and they've proven to be pretty good to this point."
But there's no denying Kinlaw's return should give the Braves a boost at the right time of the year. Playoff berths will be determined after next weekend's games and the postseason starts Nov. 9.
Kinlaw says his leg feels great now. He gave a definitive and quick answer when asked if he was ready to play full speed tonight.
"Yes I am," he said.
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