J.T. Haddan uses a towel to stretch his leg as part of rehabilitation training Wednesday afternoon after knee surgery Oct. 1. Haddan is on the Moffat County High School football team, but he was severely hurt early in the season and is training three times a week to repair the damage.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

J.T. Haddan uses a towel to stretch his leg as part of rehabilitation training Wednesday afternoon after knee surgery Oct. 1. Haddan is on the Moffat County High School football team, but he was severely hurt early in the season and is training three times a week to repair the damage.

J.T. 'the Diesel' Haddan rehabilitates his knee and his ego

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Haddan rests at the beginning of the therapy session. His leg is wrapped and he is hooked to a machine that relaxes the muscle around the injury. Therapy sessions last about an hour, and progress is measured with each exercise.

Sept. 13, 2007

— A routine play in a routine game on a routine night.

The visiting Moffat County football team was on its first defensive series of the game, backed up on its own 3-yard line, against state-ranked Palisade High School.

Middle linebacker J.T. Haddan was eying the Palisade quarterback, eager to make a play.

It was a play he's made countless times during his many years on the football field.

The ball was snapped, and Palisade's quarterback rolled to the right and cut back up the middle, right into Haddan's territory.

Haddan, or "the Diesel" as his teammates and fans call him, planted his right leg, ready to pounce.

Pop.

A hot, piercing pain shot through his right knee and "the Diesel" went down.

"Everything just popped," he said about his right knee. "I went straight to the ground."

Four minutes and 53 seconds into the contest, Haddan was lost.

Lost for the game and, for all he knew at the time, lost for the season.

Haddan didn't want to think about the seriousness of the injury.

He just wanted to keep playing.

The Bulldogs were 2-0, and Haddan was an integral part of the team's success.

He had amassed more than 250 yards and five touchdowns on the season as the starting fullback and had 19 tackles with three sacks as middle linebacker.

This wasn't supposed to happen to him.

Not in his senior season, when college scholarships are earned and the Friday night lights shine for the last time.

"I wasn't even thinking of how bad it could be," he said. "My team needed me on the field. I wanted to keep playing."

Haddan watched from the sidelines, and waited.

Waited to get back home.

Waited to find out the extent of the damage.

Waited to find out if he would play again.

Thursday turned into Friday. Friday to Saturday.

Sept. 17, 2007

It was the worst possible scenario.

The Magnetic Resonance Imagery test results from Denver were in.

A torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), a torn Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL), and a ripped Meniscus, or cartilage located behind the knee.

He was done.

Done with the Friday night lights.

Oct. 1, 2007

Surgery.

Haddan travels to Steamboat for arthroscopic surgery.

"I wasn't worried about the outcome," Haddan said. "The doctors do this stuff all the time."

The surgery went as expected.

The ligaments and cartilage were repaired, but just because they were fixed didn't mean they would work right away. He was wheelchair-bound, four pencil-sized holes in his knee and a brace around his right leg.

"The Diesel" was stuck in neutral.

Wednesday

Haddan is in his third week of physical therapy. The wheelchair is gone, but the holes and the brace remain.

He lifts his 225-pound frame onto a cold metal examination table.

"This is the fun part of the whole routine," he said. "It feels good."

Jean Talkington, an assistant at the Rehabilitation Services of Craig, attaches wires to Haddan's right knee.

Electric current passes through the wires into his knee for 20 minutes. It stimulates the muscles and gets his knee ready for what Talkington calls "the torture chamber."

The "torture chamber" consists of nine physical therapy routines applied by therapist Missy Detzner.

On a pain-meter - ranking the pain Haddan feels upon each session - he gives the first, the stationary bike, a two.

"It's hard to do," he says. "It doesn't hurt. I just can't bend it."

The second is heel slides.

Haddan slides his right heel down a padded bench, attempting to straighten the leg.

"This is a six," he says. "My thigh is sore because I haven't used it."

He points to the mass difference between his right and left legs.

"I feel like my leg is disappearing."

Detzner attaches more wires to Haddan for his fourth session, this time to his thigh.

"This picks up his muscle contractions," Detzner says, "and checks his quads to help get them working again."

Pain-meter - two

"It's just flexing my muscle," Haddan said. "No big deal."

The fifth session is leg lifts with a 1-pound weight.

Pain-meter - four.

Thirty heel digs come next. Haddan must drive his heel into the pads as hard as he can. This works his hamstring.

"This isn't so bad," Haddan says. " Maybe a five."

The seventh is the hardest for Haddan. He lies on his stomach, his right leg hanging freely over the side of the bench.

He tries to straighten the leg. He badly wants it to straighten.

It doesn't.

"This hurts really bad," Haddan said, wincing. "The worst, by far. A seven."

He rolls over for session eight, letting the leg relax before he hits the bike again for final step nine.

"It's so great to get through that last one and relax the last two," he said.

While riding out his day of Physical Therapy, Haddan reveals his timetable for a return.

Feb. 4, 2008

Haddan's expected recovery time is six months. He has different ideas.

"I need to be ready for track season," he said. "I'm just hurt. I'm not dead."

Football is Haddan's passion, so after therapy he hangs out at the high school watching his teammates practice.

On game nights, you'll catch "the Diesel" on the sideline, coaching up his fellow 'backers.

"That's the hardest part of all of this," he said. "Is being here, at the game and not being able to play."

Football may be done for Haddan this year, but not forever.

"I had a coach from CSU at Pueblo in my living room last week," he said.

"You haven't seen the last of the Diesel."

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