Difficult Road

It's been a difficult year for Mountaineer football verbal commitment Phillip "P. J." Shirdan, who hasn't been able to play a down for Monsignor Bonner High School during his senior season.

"It was probably the hardest thing I've ever gone through," said Shirdan, who has been forced to watch as his team has gone winless to date. "The season has been crazy. It's been really difficult watching."

Shirdan, who tore the ACL in his right knee during a seven-on-seven combine drill in May, at first thought the injury he suffered was not a severe one. Thinking it was just a sprain, Shirdan tried to continue, but tests revealed the ACL tear. Thus, in July, he underwent surgery, which was so successful that thoughts of returning to the playing field earlier than the six-month window of rehab danced through his head. With no accompanying cartilage damage, Shirdan hoped to get back on the field in mid-October or November at the latest, but things didn't work out that way.

"My knee is fine, and I think I could play, said Shirdan, whose team has one more game remaining on Nov. 22. "I feel like I am back to 100%, and I think I could go out and do what I need to do. I am running full speed, but the doctors did not clear me. They were worried about me maybe landing on it wrong (that was the cause of the injury at the combine) and hurting it again. They are being cautious, and they said they would clear me for all activity in December."

That schedule, right on the original six-month schedule, will allow Shirdan to participate in track, but will force him to miss that final football game. As a departing senior, he will dress, and at least try to enjoy some of the ceremonies around his last game, but he admits it will be a very difficult day for him to get through.

"I have been picturing that game for a lot time," he said of the Nov. 22 finale. "I won't be playing with these guys anymore, so it will be difficult. I haven't even had pads on since last year. It will be a heartbreaker for me, but hopefully we can pull out a win."

The competitive safety certainly has forged strong bonds with his teammates, and the anguish in his voice as he discussed that final game made it easy to see the importance he placed on being with the players he went through high school with. He could easily have stayed away and left the struggling team to its own devices, but instead he was there at every practice and game, doing what he could to support his teammates.

That dedication also spilled over into the weight room, where he worked out non stop, both as part of he rehab but also in preparation for his next football season at West Virginia.

"When this season is over, I will look forward to next year," Shirdan said. "I can't wait to go down to West Virginia. I really want to compete for a starting spot. I won't be worried about anything else after high school."

Once Shirdan gets cleared, however, he does plan to compete for Monsignor Bonner's track squad in the spring. That speed work should give him a clear indication of how far his rehab progressed and how far he still has to go, although he is confident that he has not lost a step. For caution's sake, however, he will not compete in the triple jump, high jump and long jump, as he does not want to risk an awkward landing that could spark another problem. Instead, he plans to concentrate on sprints.

"I just don't want to land on it wrong and have something happen," he said of the decision to stay away from the field events. "I just want to make sure I am fully healthy when I come down to West Virginia."

Throughout the long season of inactivity, Shirdan has leaned on his mother for advice. Saying, "she has really been there for me", Shirdan notes that he would have had an even more difficult time had she not been there for talks and emotional support. That helped him get through the difficult days and weeks of rehab, the seemingly endless losing streak his team suffered, and the long empty stretches when it seemed he might never get back on the field. However, just as he hopes for his surgically repaired knee, he might come back stronger than ever.

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