PHOTO BY BOB ROCHE
Matt Cross will have to wear the boot and use the crutches for a while yet, but he hopes to be back on the basketball court sometime in December.
By STEVE KRAUSE
LYNN — You’re 15 years old, and you were sort of a wunderkind last winter on the basketball court. As an eighth-grader you were front and center (literally) in your team’s successful quest for a state championship.
You had no reason to think it would be any different this winter.
The school year was already going remarkably well. Your football team was in the Super Bowl last month, and there you were, down by the goal line, getting ready to catch a pass that would have moved your team even closer.
Then, everything changed. That right leg you relied on so heavily to hoist yourself up to get rebounds collapses under your weight and you fall down in a heap on the Gillette Stadium turf. You can see the top of a bone (you don’t know which) starting to protrude from your skin.
Panic sets in immediately as teammates are holding their heads in their hands and walking away, and trainers are calling for stretchers and an ambulance.
You are Matt Cross, a 6-foot-7-inch freshman at St. Mary’s, and you have at least the next year to contemplate all these things as you recover from a fractured fibula and tibia, and as you learn how to walk upright, without crutches.
“I didn’t feel any pain right away,” Cross said, as fans throughout the stadium and the the Boston area (the game against East Bridgewater was televised) felt it for him, figuratively, at least. “I looked down, and I saw my leg dangling and knew something was wrong.
“The only thing I was worried about was whether I’d be able to play the way I’d played before. I figured they could fix the leg. But could I play sports again?”
The answer to that question is yes. He could possibly be ready for the start of the basketball season in December, but that’s the earliest he’ll be able to play. Football is out of the question — at least for next season. And if you think he’s gun-shy about playing football again because of this broken leg, think again.
“I love football,” he said. “I like it equal to, if not more than, basketball.”
Contrary to what many people think, it wasn’t a hit that caused the broken leg. He was trying to catch a pass, but he never left his feet, and nobody from the East Bridgewater team St. Mary’s was playing touched him.
“The doctor said it was a stress fracture,” he said.
Delving into the situation further, he said, “we think I actually fractured it a few plays prior to that. I was blocking, and I felt a twinge in the leg. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. Just some pain.”
He shrugged it off and kept playing.
“Then, when I went to catch the pass, the whole thing just gave out,” he said, “but it was only because it was already fractured.”
He thinks the adrenaline of the situation prevented his leg from throbbing immediately. He was taken first to Norwood Hospital, and then Boston Children’s Hospital, where the doctors tried to make him as comfortable as possible in anticipation of the surgery he’d need the following day.
It was then, that the leg started hurting.
“I felt it in my calf (where the fibula is located),” he said. “It was killing me.”
The surgery was successful. Doctors placed a rod through the tibia, attaching it with screws, and, says Cross, “that won’t ever break. So the issue from here isn’t that it won’t hold up, but the mental aspect resuming normal activity after having suffered the injury.”
It took the leg about a week to stop hurting after surgery, he said. While he was in the hospital, he was on painkillers, but as soon as he could stop taking them (which is when he left the hospital) he did.
“I wasn’t worried so much about the addictive part of it,” he said, “but I just didn’t like the way I felt when I took them. It slowed me down, and I was afraid that if I stayed on them, it might take me longer to heal.”
He returned to school after the Christmas break (though he was seen at the Boverini basketball tournament during the holiday). He has a boot on his leg, and is walking around on crutches. But still, he’s begun physical therapy (“just basic range of motion stuff,” he said) and all he can do now is let nature take its course.
Last March, it was Cross’ jump shot with about three seconds left in the game that carried St. Mary’s to a 1-point win over Cathedral in the Division 4 state semifinal at TD Garden. He then played a huge role the following Saturday in delivering the title to St. Mary’s. Naturally, he worked to build on that resume.
“Over the summer, I worked on all the stuff I thought I needed to work on, for basketball, that would make me better,” he said. “I took it for granted that I’d be playing now. I don’t anymore.”
He can’t stop watching the video of the play, he says.
“I watch it all the time,” he said. “My mother doesn’t like to see it, though.”
Steve Krause can be reached at [email protected]