Big 12 Campus Correspondent
When Oklahoma junior Caleb Bushyhead tore his ACL in fall workouts, the idea of him starting at shortstop this spring for the Oklahoma baseball team seemed like only a dream. Refusing to give up on a chance to play, Bushyhead would be cleared to play five months and one week after his tearing his ACL. His remarkable recovery is credited to his dedicated work ethic, driving motivation and true love for the game of baseball.
"Clearly he has come back ahead of schedule," said OU head coach Sunny Golloway. "Within one week of being in rehab it seemed like he was challenging Wes Welker with the Patriots to get back the quickest. That's just Caleb Bushyhead, he's always been one of our hardest workers."
Bushyhead tore his ACL during individual workouts on Sept. 7 while fielding double plays in practice. Jumping to avoid the runner, the junior came down on the center of the bag and immediately knew something was wrong.
"I came down and my knee was completely hyper extended," said Bushyhead. "The guys were saying they saw it bend the completely wrong way. I heard it. I felt it. Hands down the worst pain I've ever felt in my entire life."
The Mannford, Okla.-native received an MRI half an hour later and his injury was confirmed. Assuming that Bushyhead would have to sit out the season, Golloway began searching for a way to replace his starting shortstop.
"Once he tore his ACL, I immediately began looking for someone to fill Caleb's role for the upcoming season," said the OU head coach. "I told him he could just redshirt and be a junior next year. Caleb would have none of that."
Coming off of a College World Series appearance, Bushyhead wasn't going to let his situation prevent him from participating in a season where expectations were so high.
"I was devastated right away," said Bushyhead. "I couldn't believe it had happened to me. I took a couple days to let it all sink in and then the road to recovery started immediately. I began trying to get back to where I am now.
The recovery process was extremely difficult, a hard time. There was a lot of pain and a lot to fight through. You definitely need to have motivation and some goals in mind if you want to go through it all."
The shortstop worked with his trainer, Robert Fulton, for hours each day. He would show up at the main training room in the morning before class and further work with him in the afternoon at the baseball field. Bushyhead gave it his all in each training session, pursuing his goal of returning for the 2011 baseball season.
"I had told myself I was going to recover early the whole time," said Bushyhead. "I had heard of people who had come back in five or five and a half months. If they can do it, I guarantee you they're not going to work any harder than I did. When I do something, I'm going to do it to the best of my ability."
The junior's dream became reality as he approached the four-month mark. Previously experiencing a lot of pain and soreness in his knee, Bushyhead soon felt almost no pain and was able to work harder and make bigger strides in his training sessions.
"It suddenly became realistic," said Bushyhead. "It was time for me to stop talking about coming back early and make it a reality."
Bushyhead was cleared to practice a little over five months after injuring his knee and on March 11, made his 2011 debut in the Sooner lineup,
"Being out there again was nothing short of phenomenal," said Bushyhead. "It was awesome. Being able to help the team on the field is a great feeling, especially when you're so used to being a part of the team on the field."
Going up against all odds, Bushyhead returned one month into the Sooners season, a game even his coach first doubted he'd be able to play in. Golloway sees Bushyhead's dedicated recovery as a testament to his character.
""He's not going to be defeated," said Golloway. "He's going to take anything and everything in life, from a 3-2 fastball inside to an ACL injury."
Despite missing a majority of fall practices and the first 14 games of Oklahoma's 2011 season, Bushyhead believes he wasn't set back by his knee injury. If anything, it helped him become a more mental ballplayer and a better teammate.
"You're also a part of the team off the field and in the dugout too," said Bushyhead, who started in 67 games in 2010. "That's what I learned a lot about during the fall and through our first 14 games, being there in the dugout and always being there for my teammates. I was also able to learn the game a lot from the coaches. I was always looking to gain knowledge about the game and learn different tidbits here and there."
Golloway also noticed what his shortstop picked up throughout his time in the dugout.
"He got to learn a lot from being with the coaches while he couldn't play," said Golloway. "He learned how frustrating it can be to not be able to be out there and having to tell others to do something. That first game back he was more vocal than I've ever seen him."