Article reprinted courtesy of Fargo Forum and reporter Eric Peterson.
MOORHEAD, Minn. --- Sam Michel was covering a kickoff and was moments away from making his first college start for Concordia's football team a couple seasons ago.
A quick change in direction, however, created a career detour.
"I planted and my knee just gave out," said Michel, who is from Phoenix, Ariz. "It's a play that I've made 1,000 times in practice."
Michel tried to get up and start walking to the huddle, but fell down.
"I was in shock right away because I felt it pop, and I knew no one had touched me," Michel said. "It just gave out."
Michel injured his anterior cruciate ligament and was done for the year, losing the final four games of his sophomore season. He returned his junior season and played in all 10 games.
Now a senior, he helps anchor the Cobbers defense at inside linebacker.
"He just does everything right," said Cobbers senior inside linebacker Alex Berg, who played football at Fargo Shanley. "He's not the kid to ever miss a lift, to ever miss a meeting. He's always there. He's always attentive, taking notes, a very dependable guy."
The Cobbers play their first Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference football road game at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, at Hamline. The Cobbers (1-2, 1-0 MIAC) are looking for back-to-back MIAC victories after starting their season with two nonconference losses.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Michel is second on the team with 21 tackles, including two for lost yardage, through three games. Berg leads the Cobbers with 22 tackles.
Cobbers head coach Terry Horan said Michel's value goes beyond his production.
"He's well-respected," Horan said. "Everybody listens to him because when he does say things, it's usually pretty important."
Michel's ACL injury to his right knee happened in Game 6 of Concordia's 2017 season. He gained a great respect for a knee injury after going through the rehabilitation process to get back on the field for his junior season.
Michel remembers struggling to get to class each day as the injury healed after surgery. He also said his leg "looked like a toothpick" during rehabilitation.
"It was super eye-opening to me because you hear about ACL injuries all the time," he said. "You don't really understand the rehab process or the surgery or anything like that. The first month you are really learning how to walk. It was so tough and so humbling."
Last season, Michel had another smaller setback, injuring the meniscus in his right knee during the second game of the season. It wasn't enough to keep Michel out, but he had to manage the injury throughout the season.
"I just dealt with it all year," he said. "I would say that was almost more tough mentally than the ACL."
Michel finished last season with 66 tackles, ranking second on the team. He averaged 6.6 tackles per game and also had an interception. Michel started the final five games his junior season.
"He's a tough kid," Horan said. "He's extremely positive and upbeat and one of our captains."
Michel graduated from Barry Goldwater High School in Phoenix in 2016. Coming out of high school, his decision came down to playing football for Concordia or going to Arizona State and not play football. He wasn't ready to be done with the sport.
"I don't think I could have envisioned not playing football for another four years after I had the opportunity," Michel said.
Michel has spent the past two summers in Minnesota and learned to love fishing, something he rarely did in Arizona. His favorite fish to catch is walleye. He's also experienced spearfishing and ice fishing.
"That's not something I'd ever imagined would exist," Michel said of spearfishing with a laugh.
Berg said Michel is a valuable team leader.
"He's the ideal captain," Berg said. "The tempo's down at practice a little bit, he's the first guy to bring everyone up or say something. Weight room, meetings, it doesn't matter where it is. … Overall, a very good dude."