A long road, but Andrews persevered
Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game of football. Whether it is in high school, college or the National Football League, we have all seen a player helped off the field with a concussion, pulled muscle or even worse.
Games, seasons and even careers have been ended in the blink of an eye. New technology in equipment and even rule changes are constantly being used to make the game safer.
And though some athletes may go their entire career without a major injury, Montana State University-Northern junior Will Andrews has suffered two. In Andrews' junior year of high school he suffered a broken right leg that benched him the entire season. And in 2008 Andrews broke his left foot just a few games into the Light's season which left him sidelined for all of 2009.
If you have seen Andrews play, you know the kind of person he is. You have seen his work ethic, and you have seen just how much he loves the game of football. And if you have seen him play, you would know just how much he was missed in 2009.
"As a freshman he was a heck of a football player," MSU-N defensive coordinator Jake Eldridge said. "And his sophomore year he even garnered some All-Conference honors even with the injury. His presence as an athlete and as a kid with a lot of experience and his leadership ability was definitely missed. And from an athletic standpoint, he is one of the premier defensive ends in not only the conference, but the nation as well.
"We are always talking about leadership," Eldridge added. "It's just a natural thing that he has, and to not have him around definitely hurt. He was missed, that's for sure."
As hard as it is to watch a team from the sidelines, making a complete comeback may be just as hard or even harder.
Andrews went through two surgeries. He had three screws placed in the top of his foot, and later, because of lack of mobility issues, he had them removed. But Andrews was determined, not only for himself, but for his teammates as well, to do whatever it took to return to the playing field 100 percent.
While being sidelined for what would have been his junior year of football, Andrews maintained regular workouts. While being hindered by crutches, he was still able to continue upper body workouts.
And after being able to return to his feet, Andrews narrowed his focus towards his foot in his attempt at a full recovery.
Strength and balance was key. While rehabilitating Andrews discovered he lost a lot of muscle strength not only in his ankle and foot, but also in areas such as his hips. It took a lot of time and effort to get back to his former self, but with no lack of motivation and a lot of determination, Andrews has returned to the Lights this season, and is making a solid case for NAIA All-American honors as a defensive end.
"Everything I did I pushed myself to what my body would let me do," Andrews said. "You have to have a positive outlook on it and know that you are going to put in the time and know that you are going to come back and be the player that you can be. That's what I did last year. It's hard to be that leader I know I can be when I am not out there with the guys, so to watch last year was really hard. That fueled the fire to come back better and work twice as hard to get back to where I was and then some. The time you put in can be frustrating, but there is a reward to knowing how hard you worked.
"These other players are my motivation," Andrews added. "These are my brothers and these are guys that I want to come out and be the best for. I don't ever want to be that guy that can't make a play because of an old injury and have to use that as an excuse."
Andrews is a football player through and through.
And no matter what motivated him to work as hard as he did to return to the football field, he is back to being one of the links holding the Lights together.
There isn't an area of Lights football where Andrews doesn't make a difference. As a defensive end, and even sometimes as a linebacker, Andrews strikes fear into the opposing offense. And with offensive packages such as the "32 Package", Andrews even makes his mark with the MSU-N offense. And as crazy as a defensive end also being the team's punter sounds, Andrews is even a key part of the special teams.
Really, Andrews will do anything in his power to help the Lights win.
"We try to put him in different positions to help us make plays and help keep our defense versatile," Eldridge said. "Having him on the field helps us to open up our defense a lot. But he's one of the stronger guys on our team and obviously he is a great athlete so we can put him anywhere. I haven't seen him thrown out on a pass route yet, but I don't think that's out of the question."
Second chances are often taken for granted, but Andrews did no such thing. In fact, given a couple second chances after his injuries, Andrews has made the best of his situation.
The 6-1, 235-pound standout from Sandpoint, Idaho didn't let his injuries ruin his career. It would have been easy to walk away from the game after either injury and nobody would have blamed him. Broken bones put an end to football player's careers all the time, but instead Andrews has taken his situation and grown from it. He worked through the setback, and has become a better football player for it.
And win or lose, Andrews will be on the field every Saturday doing what he can for the Light's football program.
"You take a lot for granted when you're not injured," Andrews said. "It's everything, there are times you don't want to be at practice, but when you are injured you want to be there and you realize that. It humbles you, it makes you realize you want to work hard, especially if you are healthy, you have no excuse not to work hard."