By Jim Hague
A little more than a year ago, Danny Nahra was destined for high school football stardom. He was a standout running back and defensive back for the Lyndhurst High School football team, a rising junior with a ton of promise and a boat load of potential.
But all of those high hopes came to a crashing halt in the third game of the 2010 season, when Nahra suffered a serious knee injury. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, an injury that required massive reconstructive surgery.
Not only did the injury end Nahra’s junior season, but it also put his once-promising football career in complete jeopardy.
“At first, it really didn’t faze me at all,” Nahra said. “But then, when I realized that my season was completely over and I had a tough road to get back, it was very tough for me. It was tough for me to see my teammates play and I couldn’t do anything to help them. It was very heartbreaking.”
Doctors told Nahra that the rehabilitation after the surgery took about nine months to complete. But there’s never a guarantee that a teenager can recover fully from a devastating injury.
“You always about worry knee injuries,” Lyndhurst head football coach Scott Rubinetti said. “It’s also a mental thing as well, how the kid goes about it. Danny took a very proactive approach from the minute he was hurt. He was determined to make it back.”
“The knee was so swollen for eight months,” Nahra said. “But I was going to make it back. I always knew it.”
Nahra went to physical therapy three times a week to strengthen the knee. Getting the knee healthy again was the main priority every single day.
“I just knew I had to come back and make an impact on the team for my senior year,” Nahra said. “There definitely was a mental aspect to it.”
Nahra also went to Gold’s Gym in Teterboro religiously and instilled the help of Lyndhurst assistant coach Danny Goodman, who has helped several other Lyndhurst athletes rehabilitate their serious injuries in the past.
“Danny knows the specific knee rehab stuff,” Rubinetti said of his offensive line coach. “He gave Danny the constant thought process needed to get better.”
After a while, Nahra saw some dramatic improvement.
“The knee started to gradually heal and I began to feel better about myself,” Nahra said. “Coach Goodman helped me a lot to get my leg in shape. It was really tough. I had to work my tail off to get my knee back.”
When the 2011 high school football season was ready to begin preparations last August, Nahra was all set to make a triumphant comeback. His knee was fine. However, there were still some doubts.
“Danny really had to prove himself,” Rubinetti said. “We really had to be concerned, because we didn’t know how well he could come back. Can he be able to run like he did? What can he be able to give us? Maybe we have to split him out more. All of these questions ran through our heads. But once we saw Danny run, he answered the questions and more. He had prepared himself to get ready to play.”
However, disaster struck again. Right as the Golden Bears were beginning to start two-a-day practice sessions in late August, Nahra took a tumble down a flight of stairs and suffered a high ankle sprain.
“I had to wear a boot for three weeks,” Nahra said. “I was so excited to be back, then I fell down the stairs and the ankle swelled up. I was so upset because I missed so much.”
At least, the ankle wasn’t on the same leg as the knee injury.
“Right knee, left ankle,” Nahra said. “It was just bad luck.”
“He didn’t get a chance to play until the last scrimmage,” Rubinetti said. “We were wondering how he would handle it all. But Danny hit the field running. He was awesome from the first day. After his first run, we knew he was good to go.”
Nahra has been a perfect compliment in the backfield to junior quarterback Danny Kesack.
“Sure, I would say that Kesack has been the major part of our offense, but we’re still a running football team and what we do is based on what the tailback can do. It’s a huge part of our team. We like to get Danny Nahra the ball and watch him make plays. He makes us better.”
Last Friday night, the Golden Bears took on Rutherford in the first round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state playoffs, Lyndhurst’s first appearance in the playoffs since 2004.
The Golden Bears were pumped up to face a neighboring opponent, even if Rutherford was the top seed and Lyndhurst was the eighth seed.
“It’s a big rivalry in my book,” Nahra said. “We were all looking forward to the game.”
Nahra was more than ready for Rutherford, rushing for 124 yards on 19 carries, including a touchdown, leading the Golden Bears to a huge 38-13 upset win over Rutherford to advance to the state sectional semifinals.
For his efforts, Nahra has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Nahra received help in the win over Rutherford, as Kesack rushed for 154 yards, scored three touchdowns and threw for two more.
But Nahra played a huge role in the Golden Bears’ first state playoff victory since the Golden Bears captured the North Jersey Section 1, Group II championship in 1983.
“A win like this totally boosts our confidence,” said Nahra, who will lead his teammates against Weequahic of Newark Saturday in the 1 p.m. sectional semifinal in Newark, with the winner moving on to the state championship game at MetLife Stadium the first week of December. “It’s just amazing to be in this position.”
Nahra is also a fine defender who has lined up at several different positions this year including linebacker, defensive end, safety and cornerback.
“He gives us a lot of versatility defensively,” Rubinetti said. “He’s just a very good football player. He’s also done a good job as a leader, keeping the team focused. It’s been awesome to see it all come together like this.”
The Golden Bears are familiar with Weequahic, having lost to the Newark school, 15-14, in last year’s consolation round. Now, the stakes are much higher.
One thing is for sure: Danny Nahra will be ready. The knee injury is a distant memory.
“It’s definitely made me more determined than ever,” said Nahra, who hopes to play college football next fall, but doesn’t know where yet. “It’s definitely made me grow up. I’ve matured a lot because of it. There was a point where I didn’t know if I would be able to play ever again, but I’ve been able to come back and do well.”