DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK
Ft. Dorchester cornerback and Clemson signee Byron Maxwell is progressing well after suffering a devastating injury last summer.
CUTigers The Magazine
He was talented enough as a sophomore to be offered a football scholarship by the Clemson Tigers. But in one terrible moment, everything Byron Maxwell had worked for seemed to vanish.
He was playing in a pick-up basketball game last spring and drove toward the basket for a lay-up. Maxwell leaped up above the rim, and when he returned to earth, he heard a sound that sometimes signals the end of an athlete's career.
"I heard a popping sound," Maxwell said. "I knew when I heard that popping sound, it was bad. I thought it was a (knee) sprain, but I couldn't walk on it. I thought to myself, ‘What did I just do?'"
Maxwell had torn the ACL in his left knee. He was damaged goods…so damaged he had to undergo surgery in July, which forced him to miss his senior season.
Maxwell, who was named to several recruiting services' top 100 for 2005 right before suffering the freaky injury, couldn't help but think of football in the past tense.
"I heard stories of people hurting their knees and losing their scholarships," said Maxwell, who was ranked as the top cornerback in the state by Scout.com. "I remember Aaron Boone hurting his knee in a pick-up basketball game and getting dumped by the (New York) Yankees. I thought to myself, ‘I'll probably lose all my scholarships now.'"
|"I heard a popping sound," Maxwell said. "I knew when I heard that popping sound, it was bad. I thought it was a (knee) sprain, but I couldn't walk on it. I thought to myself, ‘What did I just do?'"|
But Clemson, and the rest of the schools interested in Maxwell's services, never flinched. The Tigers honored their word signed his national letter of intent on Feb. 1.
Maxwell, a 6-1, 185-pound cornerback with 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash, will become a Tiger. He can't wait. He can only imagine what it will be like when he runs onto the field the first time as a member of Tommy Bowden's squad.
"Game Day at Clemson is special," said Maxwell, who logged five interceptions and broke up 19 passes his junior season. "The fans at Clemson are great. When I went to the Miami game, I couldn't hear myself talk. The person next to you - you couldn't even hear them. I like that type of atmosphere. Running down the hill, that's great too."
Maxwell is well on the road to recovering from the injury. He's running, lifting weights and stretching. He has also built himself up mentally. There was a time when he wondered if he could come back. Now, he knows the answer.
"I can do everything I need to at this stage of rehab," Maxwell said. "I'm ready for May or June to graduate and work on getting stronger."
The Tigers will get a player who was one of the most coveted cornerbacks in the country before his injury. Fort Dorchester coach Steve LaPrad said only three of the "huge football powers" didn't offer Maxwell: Southern Cal, Ohio State and Oklahoma.
Georgia, Texas, Michigan, North Carolina State, Florida, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, South Carolina and many other schools offered Maxwell a scholarship.
"The difference in him, the reason why he was so highly recruited, is because he's so strong," LaPrad said. "He has the ability to go up against the big-time college receivers. Obviously speed is important, but his upper body strength is incredible. He jams up receivers at the line of scrimmage, and that's what big-time college football is 85 percent of the time."
Maxwell, soon after winning the region championship in the 100-meter dash his sophomore year, attended a passing camp at Clemson. That's when the Tiger staff took note.
"That was the weirdest thing," LaPrad said. "He locked down (Clemson's) No. 1 receiver prospect at the passing camp. He didn't let him catch one pass and (Clemson's staff) went crazy over Byron. They were on him so early."
That early interest and the Tigers' loyalty just might be why Maxwell picked Clemson.
"When he got hurt, he panicked a little," LaPrad said. "But there was not one school that I know that dropped him."
Florida wanted him. Urban Meyer flew up to talk to Maxwell two weeks after being named coach of the Gators. And then there was the recruiting pitch from Nebraska.
"They called me they wanted to fly in and talk with Byron for 15 minutes," LaPrad said. "I told them he wasn't going to Nebraska, and their guy said, ‘I've got to give it a shot. I've got to come in here.' They flew all the way from Nebraska to spend 15 minutes with him."
Maxwell's glad the whole recruiting process is just about history. South Carolina had hopes of Maxwell changing his mind but conceded in November and finally stopped calling him.
"He still got a couple of letters a day from Florida State," LaPrad said with a laugh. "But he just threw them away."
Maxwell focuses only on the future, only on Clemson. But he admits it was hard for him to be on the sideline for his senior season. "I didn't get a chance to dominate at the high school level like every other Division I player does," Maxwell said. "I missed out on a lot of things. I think we won only four or five games, and I think I could have made a difference. I'm ready for college. If the knee is healthy, I should start."
And if Maxwell is a starter this fall, it will be the final – and fitting – chapter in his recovery.