Sun rookie rebounds from serious injury
When he suffered an injury to his left ankle during a midget all-star game in Vancouver in the spring of 2012, J.T. Fernandez didn't know just how serious it was.
Not until he arrived in Kelowna for workouts with the Okanagan Sun several weeks later did the Holy Cross High School grad discover the sobering facts. Sun athletic therapist Roy Gillespie diagnosed Fernandez with something much more severe than a sprain—a snapped Achilles tendon.
Walking on the ankle without treatment for the better part of two months had just made matters worse and, according to at least one specialist, his future in football looked bleak, at best.
"I really thought I was done football for good," said Fernandez, 20. "I was told I needed surgery right as soon as I could get it. It was hard for me to think that I wouldn't play football again."
As it turned out, Fernandez underwent successful surgery last August and has unexpectedly—and somewhat miraculously—been making a gradual and steady recovery ever since.
After planning to come to Sun camp last year as a running back, the 5-foot-11, 235-pound Fernandez made the switch to middle linebacker in 2013.
And while Fernandez feels he may only be about 60 to 70 per cent back to his peak physical self, he says he's making gains with each practise.
"My speed isn't back to where it was, so I have to use my strength and smarts to get me through until I'm back to normal again," he said. "I need to be the smartest player out there and work hard to make up for what I've lost. It's been difficult learning a new position, but I feel like I'm adjusting and getting better. Anything that happens, I'm not going to blame it on the injury. I'm just going to keep battling."
The Sun first spotted Fernandez in Chilliwack in November 2011 while playing for the Cloverdale midgets. Offensive coordinator Nat Nagy was there to scout quarterback Cam Bedore, but both Nagy and fellow Sun assistant Nathan Mollard also liked what they saw in Fernandez, both as a player and as a person.
Even after the severity of the injury was revealed, the Sun supported Fernandez and did whatever it could to help nurse him back to health.
Fernandez is doing all he can to return the favour.
"The team took care of him and he's come back this year and really impressed us," said Mollard, the club's defensive coordinator. "He's very athletic, he's intense and a very smart, coachable kid. He understands the game, picks up stuff quickly and is a really good leader."
If Fernandez continues to make progress, Mollard said he could conceivably be the club's starting middle linebacker when the BCFC season kicks off next weekend.
From Fernandez's perspective, he's grateful for the opportunity to continue playing the sport he loves.
"I'd do anything for the Sun, they looked after me and made sure I had a chance to do this again," he said. "I was treated like family even though I didn’t play a down of football. They took care of me here even though I didn’t play. I thought I was done, but now to be in this position, I'm very excited."
Fernandez and the Sun will open the regular season Saturday, July 27 at the Apple Bowl against the Chilliwack Huskers.