Osakis’ Zimmel shows little rust returning from an ACL tear

Osakis’ Kilar Zimmel was walking on crutches and forced to miss a week’s worth of school after coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee a little more than seven months ago.

That’s hard to believe after watching him fly all over the football field last Friday night. Zimmel could be spotted almost everywhere during his team’s 35-14 win over New York Mills. He returned punts, played free safety on defense and lined up on the outside as this team’s go-to receiver on offense. So much for easing his way back into things.

Zimmel went up over the defense in his attempt to bring down a pass near the goal line during the Silverstreaks’ win over New York Mills last Friday night. (Echo Press photo by Eric Morken)

“It’s amazing,” he said. “Going from being completely injured, sitting on my bed and out from school for a week and coming back and being this physical, it’s nice. I feel great. My legs still get a little bit tired…but I came back hard, and I’m happy with how I came back.”

It was a much longer process than he ever imagined at first. Osakis was playing a basketball game at Upsala on January 3 when Zimmel went up to try and block a shot on a fastbreak. He hyper-extended his left knee when he landed.

“We thought it was just a minor knee strain,” he said. “So I was at practice every day at basketball, shooting around, being with the team thinking I was going to be coming back in a little while. Then the MRI showed it was an actual ACL tear.”

Zimmel went in for surgery on February 3. Two days later he went to his first day of rehab. Instead of a few weeks as originally thought, it would take more than six months to regain the strength and balance that he had lost in the knee. Every workout he did was done with the goal of returning for the start of his senior year of football in mind.

“As soon as it happened last winter, he talked to me and the first thing he said was, ‘They said I’ll be ready for football,’ ” Osakis head coach Bill Infanger said. “He’s taking care of himself by wearing the knee brace now at practice and doing all the right things to get himself ready to go.”

Zimmel said the knee brace has slowed him down a little bit, but other than that, he feels the same way he did before the injury. He showed he still has plenty of athleticism when he went up over a New York Mills’ defender to haul in a 31-yard pass near the goal line last Friday. That set up a touchdown run that made it 21-0 in the first half. Zimmel also had one of four interceptions for the Silverstreaks that night.

“He’s doing great,” Infanger said. “The thing he’s got left to bring back is maybe a little bit of speed that he had last year that we’re not seeing yet, but his athleticism hasn’t changed at all. We’ve always felt he’s one of the best guys at going up and getting the ball that we’ve had in this program in a long time. We want to give him a lot of opportunities to make plays like he did tonight.”

That’s exactly what Zimmel wanted to hear coming into this season. Most ACL tears take 6-9 months to recover from. He pushed through his rehab to make sure he returned on the shorter end of that timetable.

“As soon as I knew it was an ACL tear, I knew it was at least six months,” Zimmel said. “That put me through baseball, so I needed to get ready for football, get bigger, stronger, faster. I rehabbed and then  worked in the weight room this summer with all the guys.”

All that work paid off when he took the field on August 30 for the season opener. Zimmel never let fear of missing his senior year enter his mind during the recovery process. Now that he’s back, he takes the field with the same approach.

“I’m not thinking about it,” he said. “The first game, I worried about it the night before. Game day came, I didn’t even think about it. It doesn’t bother me.”