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Jack Kramer

Waverly-Shell Rock senior Jack Kramer, right, celebrates with teammates after making a tackle during a football game at Western Dubuque on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, in Epworth.

WAVERLY – When Jack Kramer lined up for the opening kickoff against Decorah on Sept. 27, 2019, he had no idea his career would take a major blow in a matter of seconds.

While trying to set up a block for his kick returner, the Waverly-Shell Rock junior was “blindsided” from the right side. His left knee, which was planted firmly in the turf, bent awkwardly as he fell to the ground.

He remained on the grass, clutching his knee, writhing in pain.

Kramer was carried off the field by W-SR head coach Mark Hubbard and athletic trainer Destry Sperfslage. Kramer remained on the sideline for the rest of the game. His mind was far from the field. He worried about his future and, more importantly, the significance of his injury.

He found out the next morning. Kramer’s worst fear was confirmed: A torn anterior cruciate ligament. His junior season was over in the blink of an eye.

“It was really hard for me,” said Kramer, who started at linebacker last season. “… just the heartbreak of not being able to finish the season. And just all the mental things that go along with not being out there with your friends playing every Friday night.”

Kramer’s injury was among a handful of brutal injuries that hit the Go-Hawks last season. Kaden Dewey tore his ACL during baseball season over the summer and was lost before the football season began. Asa Newsom also tore his ACL. Caden Langreck, who filled a void in W-SR’s backfield last season, suffered a broken hand.

“It was pretty rough last year in the backfield,” Hubbard said.

Kramer underwent surgery on Oct. 29, 2019, about a month after injuring his knee.

The weeks and months that followed featured grueling physical therapy, rehab and strength training. He worked with Sperfslage and Jerod Gayer of Taylor Physical Therapy in Waverly between two and three times per week.

“It was very hard, very physically challenging and also mentally challenging just to stay on top of school,” Kramer said.

The long, daunting road to recovery was full of ups and downs for Kramer. At times, he said, doubt crept into his mind. He wondered if he’d ever play another snap or cherish moments with his teammates under the lights every Friday night in the fall.

But he was determined to get back to where he once was.

He followed through with his physical therapy and, on June 1, less than eight months after his surgery, he was cleared for full physical activity.

As Kramer worked to accomplish his goal of returning to the Go-Hawks’ starting lineup, he learned a couple of valuable lessons along the way.

“A lot of patience,” he said, noting how he had to sit back and trust the process of putting the work in to get back to being fully healthy.

He also learned about hard work, specifically how to instill the proper work ethic to reach his goal.

“A lot of those days at PT, a lot of those weeks were really, they felt like a grind,” he said. “So, being able to change my mindset to getting that stuff done, was good.”

Rehab was just the beginning for Kramer.

When the Go-Hawks began fall camp in mid-August, Kramer was there, alongside his teammates, his knee fully recovered. But he still had to prove himself and earn the right to be a starter.

“He was a very capable linebacker,” Hubbard said. “We knew that. The question was just could he get his knee back to the point where it was going to allow him to be the same old Jack?

“He’s a pretty soft-spoken guy, but he leads by example. He speaks volumes with his actions.”

Kramer left no doubt to any underlying questions about his health or ability to come back stronger than ever. Now a senior, Kramer starts both ways for the Go-Hawks (2-2), who host Class 3A, District 3 rival West Delaware (4-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Go-Hawk Stadium.

It’s been a memorable senior campaign for Kramer. He has rushed for 66 yards on eight carries and has one catch for 12 yards. He ranks third on W-SR with 17.5 total tackles, is second with 15 solo stops and is tied for first 5.5 tackles for loss. He’s also posted two sacks.

The hard work Kramer put in to get to where he is today didn’t go unnoticed. His teammates were watching. Soon after fall camp, Kramer’s teammates voted him as one of the four team captains for the 2020 season.

“He fought through a tough injury and obviously his teammates voted for him to be a captain, and so that tells you how they feel about him,” Hubbard said. “It takes an immense amount of toughness to battle through that, both physically and mentally. That’s a very tough thing to deal with. A lot of adversity, but I know he’s a pretty grounded fella, so I know he would be able to really look at the big picture and understand that this is something he was able to work through.”

Kramer wears a brace on his left knee every game. It serves as a reminder of everything he has gone through over the past year. Finally healthy, Kramer has become a leader for the Go-Hawks. The doubt he may have once had is no longer there. The letter “C” on the front of his uniform is all the motivation he needs.

“It means a ton to me,” he said. “Going through all the hard work that I did, it’s really awesome to see it pay off.”