Batavia junior Kyle Niemiec suffered a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee during a baseball showcase last month.
He's already eager to get back on the diamond next season, but not before he vies for the football team's starting quarterback vacancy.
For Niemiec, the road to recovery hinges on being as active as possible, a pursuit that starts on the gridiron when the defending Class 6A state champions open practice Monday.
"That was a setback, an injury that I did not want to happen," Niemiec said. "It's just something I have to come back from. It's a competition, and I feed off competing."
Bracing for a camp competition with senior Evan Acosta, Niemiec enjoyed a few early fist pumps during a recent doctor's visit.
Told his recovery was ahead of schedule, Niemiec also learned he'd be able to return to full activity on Aug. 11.
Asked when football practices started, Niemiec grinned and told his doctor that same day.
"It was kind of funny how the doctor said it. That's what I just can't wait for. Just getting back on the field, you know," Niemiec said.
While still hazy about the exact sequence that led to his injury, Niemiec can pinpoint it to diving to make a play at shortstop for his Carol Stream-based DuPage Training Academy travel team.
His quad felt tender, so Niemiec did stretches and worked to stay in the game. Citing a history of playing through injuries both known and unknown, he finished the game and headed for home.
There was one problem when he arrived, though. He could hardly move to exit the car.
Niemiec initially thought he injured his thigh, but after a few days of rest yielded no progress, he went to the doctor and learned of the diagnosis. Especially thankful he wasn't sidelined with an injury to any to the "big three" knee ligaments – ACL, MCL, PCL – he began actively rehabilitating the knee after surgery.
As each day passes, Niemiec finds something about his range of motion returns. With a few days left before the Bulldogs' first practice, he is taking advantage of time off from team camp, but also making sure not to be sedentary, often getting together to review routes with wide receivers who did not take family vacations.
"It's a good break," Niemiec said. "I mean, it's a time where people can just get healthy again."
Batavia promoted Niemiec from the sophomore team for the 2013 IHSA postseason. He proved a quick study under recent graduate Micah Coffey, who quarterbacked the Bulldogs to the Class 6A state title.
"I learned so much from that guy," Niemiec said. "Just the stuff that he knows and the stuff that he's been teaching. … Every practice it was. 'What should I be looking for on this play? What's going to be happening here?' "
Nine months later, Niemiec is confident he's in position to take the reins in full.
"Just preparing," he said. "Because we've got a big week coming up and we want to come out fired up."