RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
A torn ACL didn't stop senior quarterback Bryce Kalauokaaea from returning to the football field to lead Castle to a 5-0 mark.
No passing fancy
Bryce Kalauokaaea bounces back from an injury to spark Castle
It was the first serious injury of his life.
Sure, Castle High School quarterback Bryce Kalauokaaea suffered sprained ankles and other ailments throughout his career, but nothing came close to the torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the first quarter of a nonconference game against Damien last year.
Yards passing: 923
TD passes: 11
Grade-point average: 3.3
Aspirations: To become a firefighter
As a junior, Kalauokaaea was excited about the new year after training extremely hard over the summer to learn the intricacies of the spread offense. He was first introduced to this scheme his sophomore season.
Unfortunately, things didn't go according to plan for the Castle senior.
Just minutes into the game against the Monarchs, Kalauokaaea called a screen pass to his running back. But the defense sniffed it out. Kalauokaaea tried to roll out of the pocket in hopes of finding an open receiver.
Looking back on the play, Kalauokaaea concedes he should have slid or run out of bounds to avoid contact, but instead, he headed upfield. After planting his leg, two large defenders landed on him with all their weight, and he felt his knee give out.
"I thought my leg was broken," Kalauokaaea said. "I couldn't feel my left leg when it happened. I was just hoping and praying it was nothing serious."
After an MRI, it was confirmed he had torn his ACL as well as cartilage in his knee.
In order to fix the injury, doctors surgically removed Kalauokaaea's patella tendon and used screws to attach it to the bone in place of the ruptured ACL. While the screws tend to bother him from time to time, Kalauokaaea has no other physical reminders of the ordeal, aside from the scar left after the surgical incision.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound athlete had to rehabilitate his leg and restore the natural tension and balance to the replaced ligament. He spent four months doing strength and agility drills, and just six months after the injury, he was back playing basketball for the school. The three-sport athlete -- he also runs track -- made his return to competitive sports six months ahead of doctor's estimates.
According to Castle head coach Nelson Maeda, Kalauokaaea has come back "very nicely," and his injured leg is actually stronger than the healthy one.
"For a competitor like he is, who has a passion for the game, he's worked very hard," Maeda said. "He's trying to make up two years in one year's time. We hope he gets better each game. He's kind of rusty, but hopefully, as the games go on, he'll find his rhythm."
Kalauokaaea has helped lead the Knights to a 5-0 regular-season record and first place in the Oahu Interscholastic Association's Red East Conference. They are ranked No. 6 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10.
"He brings some experience to our team, and has a very good understanding of our offense," Maeda said.
Through Saturday's 42-13 victory over Kaimuki, Kalauokaaea has thrown for 923 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"He makes his reads fast, and finds his receivers easily," senior wide receiver Lihikai Domingo said. "He works very hard and it shows on the field. I have a lot of respect for him."
Kalauokaaea carries a 3.3 grade-point average and aspires to become a firefighter. While he has received letters from different colleges, no offers have come his way.
In what was easily the biggest game of the season so far for Castle, the senior quarterback completed 19 of 31 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns as the Knights upset perennial state power Kahuku 23-6 on Sept. 16.
The victory marked the first time Castle had defeated the top-ranked Red Raiders in 17 years.
"That (win) was great because nobody expected Castle to win that night," Kalauokaaea said. "We were clicking as a team, and that's when we play our best."