MU sports medicine team helps a high school football player get back on the field for senior year

    Whole communities rally behind high school football with anticipation and excitement about Friday night lights. In Missouri, Boonville High School won the district championship game in the fall of 2022. They became district champions for the first time in 11 years.

    But for Boonville Pirates’ player Jake Pickens, last season’s success was bittersweet.

    “Yes, I do remember the play, very, very vividly,” said Pickens.

    In Boonville’s final regular-season game, the right guard was blocking downfield and got sandwiched in a pile of players.

    “Someone else hit me in the back, so the back of my legs kind of went down and forward. I fell backwards, and then a couple of people fell on top of me,” he said. “Once I got off the field and was hopping onto the medical table, I felt it shift a little bit, and that’s when I knew something was pretty messed up.”

    From that moment on, everything for Pickens changed. He would face a long road to recovery, hoping it would be in time for his senior year of high school football.

    Imaging results at the University of Missouri Health Care’s Sports Medicine Injury Clinic confirmed his fear.

    “When I heard my ACL was torn, it bummed me out,” Pickens said.

    Pickens had torn a ligament and cartilage in his right knee and needed complex surgery. If Pickens wanted to play high school football again, the Boonville player and his family decided to trust Clayton Nuelle, MD, MU Health Care Orthopaedic Surgeon at the Missouri Orthopaedic Institute. Nuelle is an expert in sports medicine reconstructive surgery and is also a team doctor for the Mizzou football team.

    “In this particular case, we took a small piece of the middle portion of his quadriceps tendon at the same knee, and then we actually fashion what we call a graft, which means we create a new ligament. We create a new ACL,” said Nuelle. “And then also repair both the medial and lateral meniscus, which is where we go in and we actually suture, or stitch together, the torn tissue.”

    The ACL and menisci stabilize the knee when an athlete runs, jumps, cuts or twists. To rebuild his knee, MU Health Care physical therapists provided Pickens with personalized care on his road to recovery.

    “He’s gotten more stability, more speed and definitely more function as he progresses with his ACL and meniscus rehab,” said Kelley Tate, Mizzou Therapy Services Clinic Manager.

    For sports medicine specialists, treatment and recovery are a team effort. The surgeons and physical therapists can become some of the best teammates a player has ever had. They are the ones helping Pickens get back on the field for his senior season. And Pickens’ hard work paid off. He was cleared to play again.

    “After many months of recovery and PT and working hard, I’ve come to realize that anything is possible with the right people helping you,” said Pickens.

    MU Health Care’s Sports Medicine Injury Clinic is a walk-in service available six days a week during the fall.