When Kokomo senior Tayler Persons went down with a torn ACL during Week 2 of the 2013 football season, Wildkat faithful feared they would be robbed of watching one of the school’s best two-sport athletes finish the final chapter of his prep career.
But, Persons is set to return much faster than everyone thought possible — everyone except Persons and those close to him.
The Indiana Junior-All Star guard announced Thursday he is set to return to action just a little over four months after surgery, and will make his basketball season debut Saturday against Tipton at Memorial Gym.
“These last few months have been filled with a lot of hard work and believing in myself,” Persons said. “I’ve put in lot of hours in the gym and working with my therapist. To be able to come back just feels amazing.”
Persons tore the ACL in his left knee in a 39-13 loss at Fort Wayne Wayne on Aug. 30, the day before his 18th birthday. He went under the knife to repair the ligament on Sept. 17, and will be four months and eight days removed from surgery when he takes to the court for game action for the first time. It’s a surgery the average person takes between six and nine months to full recover from.
“I think it’s God blessing me with good genetics, because I know it’s really rare to come back this quick,” Persons said. “God blessed me with the will to work hard and the genetics to heal me. If you put your mind to something, you can always do it. An ACL injury is not the end of the world if you put your mind to getting back and work hard to do that.”
His immediate role on the court is not fully determined, but Persons and coach Brian McCauley both thanked surgeon Jeff Hartzell, physical therapist Rob Comer and the staff at Replay, as well as athletic trainer Brett Patterson for their vital roles in helping Persons get back up and running in such a short span.
Surprisingly, McCauley said the plan all along was to have Persons up and running in four months. Persons missed the mark by just a little over a week.
“Some of Tayler’s greatest attributes have nothing to do with the injury,” McCauley said. “His leadership, confidence and mental toughness have never changed. He’s provided those things to our team throughout the games that he’s missed. It’s to be determined from a physical standpoint because he’s yet to play. So, we shall see, but from a mental toughness standpoint and a leadership standpoint, he’s provided that for our team the last 12 games.”
Persons says his range of motion and lateral movement are “great,” but added his game isn’t back to 100 percent just yet because “I need to get back in shape and everything.” He’s been participating in shooting drills for the last three months, and returned to practice two weeks ago. Although he was stripped of the first 12 games of his senior season, he’s taking a glass-half-full approach, focusing on the lessons he’s learned as a spectator.
“You see the game and you learn differently and learn to respect your coach more through seeing what he has to go through,” Persons said. “I feel like everything has helped me out, through understanding how to play defense and read things better. It was a blessing in disguise, making me sit back and watch the game.”
Persons helped lead the Kats to a 65-11 record and sectional championships during each of his first three seasons on the varsity squad, and played a vital role in Kokomo’s run to the Class 4A state championship game as a freshman. He averaged 17.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.9 steals per game last season as a junior, leading the Kats to a 22-3 record. That included the program’s 17th North Central Conference championship, and marked just the second time in school history Kokomo finished its conference slate with an unblemished 7-0 record.
Kokomo has nine games remaining in the regular season, six of which are on the road. Persons, a Northern Kentucky University recruit, stands at 913 career points, leaving him 87 points short of becoming the 12th player from Kokomo or Haworth to reach the 1,000-point plateau for his career.
“My main goal was not to come back and get to 1,000 points,” Persons said. “My main goal was to come back and do it for my teammates because I know they need me more than anything, and all the fans who support Kokomo basketball. I just felt like I owed it to them to come back. If I score 1,000 points or I don’t it doesn’t matter. I just want to come back and help our team reach its goals.”