Dec. 17, 2013
Emotions and tears spilled out of Austyn Carta-Samuels as he leaned on crutches at the 50-yard line.
He was excited and distraught all at once. Just an hour earlier, he was told he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee. The injury can be devastating, requiring months of intensive rehab before returning to the field.
With the news that his career might be over, Carta-Samuels cheered from the sidelines and celebrated with his teammates as the Commodores rallied to upset No. 15 Georgia on Oct. 19.
Earlier in the week, his grandfather, Tom Samuels, had died. Tom had played baseball at Vanderbilt and helped pay for Austyn's tuition when he first transferred from Wyoming two years ago without a football scholarship. After the Georgia game, he flew back home to California to be with his family.
Five days later, he flew back to Nashville to learn his college career didn't have to be over.
"(The doctors and athletic training staff) said, `Austyn, your quad and calf are responding extremely well to your injury. Would you want to try to make a run at playing?'" Carta-Samuels said. "I felt like that was only a gift that could be given to me by God or my grandfather. It was definitely the best thing to do for me and my teammates. I don't think many people have the opportunity to have that happen."
A fifth-year senior from San Jose, Carta-Samuels decided to postpone surgery for six weeks.
He played the last three games despite a torn ACL and led the Commodores to three victories and an 8-4 finish in the regular season.
While waiting for the swelling in his knee to decrease, he strengthened his leg and hips. Once his knee was ready, he worked five hours a day with athletic trainer Tracy Campbell to bolster his quad, hamstring and hip muscles. In addition, Campbell said, dynamic stabilization exercises helped bridge the gap between his brain and muscles to compensate for the lack of an ACL.
"At the end of the day, to have that opportunity I believed was for something greater than myself," he said. "I felt that was the way I would treat the situation. I couldn't be happier to go to war with these guys again. And just battle through [the injury].
When you look at it, here at Vanderbilt, you have great support everywhere."
On Monday, Head Coach James Franklin made public the severity of the injury and announced Carta-Samuels would miss the BBVA Compass Bowl. The senior underwent surgery on Dec. 4 and has begun rehab to be ready for an NFL Pro Day in late March.
"Just really proud of that kid," Franklin said. "That guy made the ultimate commitment to this team... He did something probably 99-percent of college athletes and high school players wouldn't have done and put this team first."
In the three games with one healthy leg, Carta-Samuels completed 64-of-84 passes for a mind-boggling 76.2 percent completion percentage. For the season, he completed 68.7-percent of his passes for 2,268 yards and 11 touchdowns in helping the Commodores lock up a bowl berth for the third straight season for the first time in program history.