On the eve of the start of the 2014 season, Vikings guard Brandon Fusco signed a five-year, $25 million contract extension. For a sixth-round pick from small Slippery Rock (Pa.) College, it was a dream come true.
Just 16 days later at the Superdome in New Orleans, Fusco’s dream became a nightmare. He felt a pop below his right shoulder and knew something was seriously wrong. He stayed in for another play, but when he couldn’t lift his arm, he knew his injury wasn’t going to something he couldn’t shrug off.
When he got back to Minnesota, an MRI confirmed his worst fears. Not only had he suffered a torn pectoral muscle, but the tear was so severe that it was going to require surgery. For Fusco, that was a bigger concern than it was for a lot of football players.
From the time Fusco left the hospital after being born, the only time he had ever been back was for routine things. He had played football since junior high school, and while he had experienced some minor injuries he had never suffered anything that caused him to miss time, much less going under the knife.
It’s been a difficult adjustment for Fusco, during both good and bad times. He wants to be part of the good times and wonders if he could have help prevent some of the bad times. For a player who has never been watching from the sidelines during his football career, it’s been a tough pill swallow.
“This is all new to me,” Fusco said. “It’s kind of tough watching my teammates battle out there in practice and know I can’t be with them. It’s hard to watch sometimes knowing I can’t be part of it. I miss playing a lot. I love the game of football, so I’m just anxious about getting better and getting back out there with my guys.”
Getting back out there won’t happen for Fusco until the OTAs open next spring. On Monday, he returned to the team to start a four-month rehab process – the standard time for recovery from such an injury – and, as if often the case, the first steps to recovery are baby steps. Start slow. Add a little every day. Don’t push too hard. It’s a routine several of his teammates have been forced to begrudgingly accept.
The first steps are the simplest, but the first step in a long journey that will take him all the way through the worst of the Minnesota winter. But, like the onset of spring, hope blooms for Fusco that he will return better than ever in 2015. Until then, there’s a lot of work to be done – even that which seems monotonous and, at times, kind of pointless.
“I just started some range of motion stuff because that’s basically all I can do right now,” Fusco said. “I can’t wait to get to working with weights, but that’s going to take some time.”
That may be the second-worst part of not being able to play. Fusco has been a gym rat since he first took up football, and weightlifting has always been a passion for him as a way to push himself to get more physically imposing every year.
Taking away weightlifting from Fusco is like taking a phone away from a social media addict.
“I’m a big weight room guy,” Fusco said. “I guess you could say I’m a big meathead. I’m missing all that stuff because it’s something I’ve done pretty much non-stop since I was in high school. I’m missing all that stuff and I’m looking forward to getting back to that point.”
The most immediate impact of Fusco’s injury has been the feelings of separation anxiety he has with his teammates. He’s never been in that position before – feeling at times likes he’s on the outside of an inside joke.
“It’s a little different watching games on TV,” Fusco said. “I just feel like I’m not even part of the team anymore. Sometimes it’s hard to tell people that I’m a Minnesota Viking. But I’ve put my time in – this is my fourth year – and I know I’ll be back next year and ready to go. I look forward to that because I miss my teammates and can’t wait to get back out there with them.”
One of the first hurdles Fusco is facing may be one of the biggest – not pushing his recovery too hard and risk an early setback in his rehab. The good news on that front is that Fusco knows his own personality and will have to learn to temper his instincts in the short term for long-term benefit.
“I know it’s going to be tough because of the kind of person I am,” Fusco said. “I go after everything hard and try to give everything I have. But I don’t want to have any setbacks, so I just listen to what the experts tell me and take it as it comes.”
There will be frustrating days on the horizon for Fusco as he enters a chapter of his life that he’s never experienced before. At this point, he’s putting his faith in the Vikings training staff, which has gained league-wide respect for its ability to get players healthy and back on the field.
It won’t be easy, but Fusco is prepared to make the sacrifices for incremental improvement now so that when he is given the green light he will be prepared to get back on the field 100 percent and ready to cut loose.
“I know it’s a process that I have to go through and I’m starting it right now,” Fusco said. “You have to trust in the training staff and I believe we have one of the best training staffs in the NFL. I think they’re going to get me back as soon as possible and I’m looking forward to picking back up where I left off when I got the injury.”
Fusco struggling, missing ‘meathead’ stuff
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