Cole Brydges returned to the football field for the first time in nearly four years last week.
The slot back was sidelined 1,456 days ago after suffering a torn ACL while training with the Team Manitoba flag football squad. Brydges notes it was an extremely lengthy process to heal fully and he outlines his feelings after the first game back.
"Oh man, it was something else, especially after it being so long," Brydges explains. "Going through everything with my ACL, I pretty much called it quits after having the surgery. So, it's hard to explain, but it's the game I love, so it's nice to get on the field, run around, and be a part of a team again."
In his first game back, Brydges more than held his own. The receiver picked up three catches for twelve yards, finding the endzone in the process. The local also had his biggest, and most impressive, catch of the day called back due to a penalty.
Brydges returned to action with the Cold Lake Fighter Jets in the Alberta Football League and states the team's optimism is one of the main things that made him want to play again.
"Before I hurt myself, I was planning on coming out here. I was talking with the GM, Damen Schaub, and I told him what happened when it happened, he was upset for me, but he kept in touch pretty much the whole time over the last few years. He reached out again a couple of months ago and I hopped all over the opportunity."
The Portage-born wide receiver has been involved in the sport since he was extremely young, noting he was a member of the first-ever iteration of the Portage Pitbulls program. The local played for Portage Collegiate from 2009 to 2012 and went on to play another six seasons of football in various leagues across Canada.
The slot back says when he returned to Manitoba four years ago is when things went south for him.
"I was on the Team Manitoba flag football team, and we were getting ready for provincials and nationals. I tore it doing that," says Brydges. "I was working my way back, and I had a plan to go play in Germany, but then I re-hurt my knee and I had to end up getting surgery."
Brydges notes the setback took its toll on him, not just physically, but also mentally.
"There were definitely a lot of ups and downs. For the first few months, I couldn't even bend my knee or walk. You start to get in your own head with things like, 'Okay, I'm done. People don't come back from this.' But then, the next day, you have the complete opposite feeling," adds Brydges. "My favourite receiver was Julian Edelman, and he tore his ACL but came back and still had a good career after as well. I had a good group of guys around always reminding me of that, and it meant a lot. It kept me on the right path."
The receiver says he knew the recovery process would take some time, but COVID-19 decided to make it even longer than he expected.
"I ended up rehabbing for two or three years. The first two years I was trying to get back to being able to play in Alberta, but then the whole COVID thing happened," Brydges continues. "After that, I honestly just called it quits and started looking for coaching jobs. I helped out with the PCI team when I was injured and I was starting to follow that path until Damon called me again."
With one game under his belt, the slot back is confident his time on the sideline at PCI has improved his football IQ.
"If you want to coach something, you really have to understand it. You can't fake your way through it when you're trying to explain it to younger kids," Brydges explains. "It really made me understand the ins and outs of the game more, especially when it came to watching film. I understand defences better and know some of the ways to beat them. Now being on the field, I can see those same things, and it makes the game a lot easier."
While his main job is on the offensive end, Brydges also chipped in with two special teams tackles last Monday and made this outstanding play.
The Cold Lake Fighter Jets were impressive in Week 1, flying past their opponent with a 33-9 victory over the Edmonton Elite Football Club in their season debut. Brydges says it was interesting, as he plays alongside another Portager in Colby Irwin, who just so happened to be coached by Brydges during his time on the PCI sidelines.
"It was really weird. I also played against Brock Miller, who I also coached in high school. Playing against him was more weird, seeing as how I'm like ten years older than him," Brydges continues. "It was interesting, but it didn't change the game a whole bunch until after when you're joking around."
The former Trojan found this four-year journey back to the field to be an extremely important learning experience about persistence and the real significance of a positive mindset.