BATAVIA – Mitch Krusz speaks in certainties about the knee injury that kept him from completing the best season in Batavia football history.
He's equally sure his rehab prepared him for his part of the Bulldogs' Class 6A state title defense, which begins when Oswego visits one week from tonight.
"With the amount of work I've put into this," Krusz said, "there's no doubt in my mind I'm 100 percent right now."
Batavia's senior right guard still spends time at Performance Clinics in Batavia and Ethos360 in North Aurora, the facilities that saw him sweat through recovery from a torn ACL and partially torn MCL in his left knee.
In some respects, pushing through early workouts proved far less strenuous than watching his teammates from the sidelines after suffering the injury during a Week 7 win at St. Charles North.
Seven weeks later, Batavia avenged its lone regular-season loss and defeated Richards, 34-14, for the state championship in DeKalb. Standing on the sidelines but not in full gear, Krusz felt like part of the bedlam but still knew something was missing.
"It was the hardest thing I ever had to do," he said. "I mean, it was always my dream to win state, and it was really hard being on the sidelines. One of the hardest things. It's really motivated me to where I am today."
That resolve only figures to fuel the Bulldogs after graduating much of their offensive skill positions. There's plenty in stock on an experienced front five.
Krusz and center Patrick Gamble are among Batavia's team captains, and return as starters alongside classmates Zach Tate (left tackle) and Jack Breshears (right tackle).
"That's always a good way to start out, especially when you've got young skill," Bulldogs coach Dennis Piron said. "Give those guys a chance to grow knowing that they're going to be protected, there's going to be holes to run through."
Linemates have lauded Krusz's work ethic, knowing it stabilizes a unit that helped Batavia to program records in points (594), first downs (314) and total offensive yards (5,769) in 2013.
"We're just looking really solid all the way around," Gamble said. "Things are coming together, and it's been a lot of fun."
Naturally, Krusz is smiling as he again basks in brotherhood with teammates and friends he's grown up with.
The journey back began with a fateful outside running play against North last Oct. 11. With Krusz pulling on the play, a defensive back blocked low and locked onto Krusz's ankle in the open field.
An MRI revealed significant knee damage. He underwent surgery shortly thereafter and then set his focus on rehab, which included more traditional sessions at Performance Clinics and football-specialized training with Ethos360's Mike Miller.
With Bulldogs coaches also planning to use Krusz as an occasional fullback and defensive tackle this season, the increased strength, mobility and flexibility is a boon.
"I've been going to rehab literally every week. Haven't gone on vacation or anything to make sure I'm getting my knee as strong as I can," Krusz said. "Right now, it's 100 percent ready to go. Coaches, they're making me slow play into it, but I'm 100 percent."
After football season, Krusz eyes a return to the wrestling program in the 285-pound class. He still was a wrestling team captain last season and attended practices after completing his rehab work, just as he did with the football team.
Full participation, though, is much preferred, and Krusz is amped for that.
"Lots of hard hitting. Intensity is way up right now. So we're very ready," Krusz said.
Of that, like many things, he is sure.