MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Marvae Myers still remembers the play like it was yesterday. A drill early in 2021 spring ball, coming off of Myers’ 2020 season where he appeared in all nine games, starting one for the Blue Raiders. It was one-on-one coverage reps, and the then-redshirt freshman had gotten a good jam on his competitor at receiver.
“He was on the ground, but to my surprise he got back up and started running still,” Myers recalled. “I don’t give up on plays, so I chased him down.”
Myers caught up with the receiver, perhaps a bit too quickly, catching his foot on his opponent’s and hyper extending his left knee, falling to the ground in the process.
At first, Myers thought everything was fine, popping right back up after defending the pass. When he fell right back down, however, his left leg unable to bear any sort of weight, he knew something was wrong.
When he was helped off the field, and eventually into the training room, and saw the speed with which his knee swelled, and eventually the expression on athletic trainer Keith Bunch‘s face, Myers knew he might be missing the 2021 season.
“It’d probably be easier for me to name off the things he didn’t tear,” Bunch recalled.
After the examination and MRIs, Myers was diagnosed with a posterolateral corner injury with ACL, an injury where Myers not only tore his ACL within his knee, but also many of structures that support the knee itself, such as lateral and collateral ligaments.
It’s the type of injury that some football players don’t come back from. Willis McGahee, Bunch noted, barely did after suffering a similar injury while playing at Miami. And even those that do face a longer than usual recovery process, thanks to the necessity of undergoing two major surgeries within two months of each other. One to reconstruct or, if possible, simply repair, the outer structure that supports the knee, and the second to fix their ACL.
But just like in the play that injured him, Myers knew he wasn’t a quitter.
“I always handled different adverseities in life,” Myers said. “This just happened to be a physical adversity.”
The work of rehab can be monotonous. The same exercises, over and over, just to try to regain what you had already earned. For Myers, he first had to regain his range of motion around the knee, before he could even fix the ACL.
Band work, ankle weight work, all just trying to rebuild strength. And even after the ACL was fixed after almost six weeks of rehabbing from the first surgery, the solitude of that fight remained.
“That’s the beauty in the destruction,” Myers said. “Coming in, I would have a lot of time to myself, a walk of loneliness. I used that time to invest in books, listen to motivational music, and most importantly, get closer to God. I started listening to the scriptures, positive affirmations. It helped me come in with good energy.”
Bunch said he’d never seen an athlete attack rehab in the way that Myers did, listening to mediation music as he went through his daily routine of rebuilding his knee.
“You’re just going, ‘ok man! Whatever works, let’s just go!” Bunch said. “It was a breath of fresh air. No matter how tough a day was, he was just like ‘I’ve got to do this.'”
Myers still smiles thinking about what got him through those tough days. The word of God, of course, but also other books, like “Can’t Hurt Me,” a memoir by ultramarathon runner and former Navy SEAL David Goggins, or Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now,” each audio track helping him get his mind right for the long road ahead.
Bunch encourages his athletes to focus on small victories each day. Getting one more degree on their range of motion, one more step in your brace, even just feeling like your pain was a little less than it was the day before. It was a lesson Myers took to heart.
“Anytime Keith (Bunch) would ask me, regardless of how I felt, how I was doing this morning, I would say ‘Outstanding! I feel better than yesterday'” Myers said.
As you enter the weight room off the side of Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium, just on the wall to your right, MT Football’s record board greets you. Team records, in a plethora of weights and jumps, are spread out by position, with headshots of record holders both recent (safety Tra Fluellen) and not-so-recent (current QB coach Brent Stockstill) smiling back at you.
Myers is the latest to claim a spot on that board, a 425-pound squat max that just edges out Deidrick Stanley II’s 420-pound mark to claim the top spot among Blue Raider safeties. It so happened recently, the redshirt sophomore’s picture is not up there quite yet, but those in the room the day it happened remember it.
namely, Keith Bunch.
“That’s the reason I like to do this,” Bunch said of Myers’ recovery. “You don’t ever want to see anybody get hurt. But when you see somebody go from lying on the field, being hurt and then worrying about whether they’re ever going to play football again to going back in that weight room and hitting a PR of 425 pounds, and seeing their smile?
“Man, that just lights your heart up.”
Myers himself cracks a smile when you bring it up, (“I wasn’t even feeling my best that day, but I surprised myself,” Myers said), but is more focused on other milestones, like how he won’t have the red “no contact” jersey on come August camp, how he’s going to compete for a starting job and continue the legacy of so many great Blue Raider safeties, particularly the legacy of Jovante Moffattcurrent New York Jet, who was one of his first mentors on campus in Murfreesboro.
And also to prove to the coaching staff that he was worth the offer he got in 2019, when he committed to the Blue Raiders without even visiting the school.
“It’s a long time coming, but it’s finally here,” Myers said. “To finally have this chance to show these coaches that I wasn’t a bad investment, that I’m actually who I say I am, I’m just excited to help this team get to a conference championship.”