“Williams is a better place for having Nick,” Wide Receiver Coach Marshall Creighton said of football tri-captain Nick Caro ’10. Watching Caro take off down the field for a pass this season, you would never know that less than a year ago, his doctors told him he would likely not be able to run, let alone play football ever again.
Last season, Caro was a huge presence in the Ephs offense. In just five games, Caro caught 32 passes for 556 yards and three touchdowns. He also set the school record for most receiving yards in a single game against Middlebury with 212 yards. Head Coach Mike Whalen said that Caro was “the best offensive player in the league for five games of last season.”
However, Caro’s successful season came to an abrupt halt on Oct. 26 in a game against Hamilton. In the first play of the game, as rain coated the field, Caro caught a pass and was tackled by two Hamilton players. “Someone dove at my knees and simultaneously someone hit me in the back and my foot was stuck in the mud,” Caro said. The result from this collision left Caro with a broken tibia, bone chips in his femur, a torn meniscus and MCL and damage to the cartilage in his knee. He was immediately taken off the field and to the hospital.
A few days later, on Nov. 2, Caro underwent surgery for nearly five hours where the doctors used screws and other hardware to rebuild his knee. But the lengthy surgery proved the easy part. Caro’s doctors told him he would never be able to really run again and could definitely not play football his senior year. He would also be disabled for an undetermined amount of time. Caro was bedridden for a few weeks following surgery and would need the help of crutches and physical therapy before he could walk independently again.
“I figured my athletic career was over,” said Caro.
Apart from football, the seriousness of Caro’s injury affected all other parts of his life. His rehabilitation prevented him from his plans to study Arabic abroad in Jordan in the spring of last year. Instead, he returned to Williams weeks after his surgery and moved into the handicap accessible room in Tyler House with a teammate. With the help of his friends and mom, Caro was able to finish out the year’s work while also going to physical therapy twice a week from November 2008 â€“ June 2009.
Rehabilitation was an extremely slow process, as Caro had to completely re-build the muscles in his leg. “At first we were just trying to get all the movement and motion back in the leg,” he said. “I started putting a little weight, like 10 or 20 pounds, on it. We tried to build the muscle back so I could start walking again. We also worked a lot in the pool because it gives a sense of weightlessness.”
This process had significant effects on all aspects of Caro’s life. “It was really painful,” he said. “It was hard going to physical therapy because it would set me back the rest of the day. It took so much energy that I had little left afterwards. But the hardest part was psychological. Not being able to bend your knee. It was depressing.”
Yet, slowly and steadily Caro strengthened his leg, discarding his crutches four and a half months after surgery and his cane a month later. Caro continued to work to rebuild the muscles in his left leg that had atrophied from months of disuse. “I walked really slowly and with a really bad limp,” he said. “I couldn’t walk very far. I needed to rest a lot before I could get going again.”
Somehow, by the end of May, just a few weeks after losing his cane, Caro was participating in football’s May testing. Whalen recalls amazedly watching Caro running in May. “[I thought], he still has a lot of time â€“ with the right focus and determination maybe he could be back,” Whalen said. But Caro didn’t have this hope. “I didn’t think I was going to play,” Caro said. “In July I thought about it, but by August I still didn’t think I was going to play.”
In early June, Caro’s x-rays showed that his leg had healed better than anticipated, and his doctor gave him the news he had been hoping to hear: He could try to play for his senior season. However, his doctor cautioned that he would be a different athlete, unable to go at more than 80-85 percent.
Caro was thrilled with the prospect of being just on the team. Caro now had the task of getting fit to play, another big challenge for Caro, but he again faced it with a determined attitude. “I had to lose a lot of weight,” he said. “I went on the elliptical and the bike a lot. I didn’t drink at all and didn’t go to McDonalds anymore. I lifted really hard, went to the gym twice a day and ate really well. It was hard being a couch potato for a year and then going into really difficult training. It was hard to make that switch.”
It wasn’t until the last couple of weeks before the season began that Caro saw a real chance of playing. “We had no idea how he was going to come back from his injury,” said Creighton. But after seeing Caro on the field again, Whalen soon realized, “Even if he’s at 80 percent he’s still better than a lot of the players we play against. Nick is an incredible athlete. He is that rare combination of size, strength and speed that we don’t often see at our level.”
So far this season, Caro has only been able to participate in three of the four games the Ephs have played due to concerns about the weather and that he has still not fully recovered. “We must be smart about how we utilize him,” said Whalen recognizing that Caro is not 100 percent.
Caro has nevertheless played astoundingly well. He leads the team in all receiving categories, with 21 receptions for 268 yards and two touchdowns. “I certainly didn’t think I would ever have a hundred yard game or be an asset for the team again,” he said. “I thought I would be a secondary periphery supporting player. Like a bench player. I [am] shocked [by how the season has turned out thus far].”
In fighting through his injury both Creighton and Whalen believe Caro has matured and truly become a role model, inspiration and source of perspective. “His message is loud and clear to our team: You have to play every play through as if it’s your last because it might be,” said Whalen.
“He’s really overcome an awful lot, which speaks volumes about his desire to win and his love for the game,” Whalen continued.
Caro has learned a lot from his injury and is extremely grateful to be back on the field in his final season. “It might sound really clichÃ© but [this experience] gave me the feeling I can do anything I put my mind to,” he said. “And staying positive through a really bad situation gave me a lot of confidence in myself. I’m not going to lie, it feels really good to play again. It’s like a dream come true, to be honest.”