NEW YORK – Wrapped inside the bulky black brace that Dylan Peters wears on his right knee is a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament that will require surgery in a couple weeks.
For basketball and football players, the diagnosis of an ACL tear often means season-ending surgery and a six- to nine-month recovery.
For Northern Iowa’s 125-pounder, it meant a 54-day break from competition.
Peters snapped the ligament in early December, rehabbed and was back in the Panther lineup before the end of January. He takes a 14-2 record into the NCAA Championships, which begin Thursday in Madison Square Garden.
The ninth-seeded junior has won seven of his eight bouts since returning from the injury, including two against his first-round opponent, Shakur Laney of Ohio.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of guys that could go through it,” Northern Iowa coach Doug Schwab said. “He never really questioned it, either.”
Well, at least not to Schwab.
Peters admits there may have been a couple moments of trepidation when he wondered whether the rest, rehab and return approach was the best move. But Schwab’s positive tone quelled those doubts.
“He believed in me the whole time,” Peters said. “I think (there would have been more concerns) if I had gone to him after it happened and he had said, ‘Dude, I don’t know if you can do this’ or ‘I don’t know how confident I am of you doing it.’
“But he talked to me and he was like, ‘I think you can win matches like this, Peters. There’s no doubt in my mind. I’ve seen guys do it.’ Instantly, that helped build confidence back in me and I started rehabbing right away.”
Schwab backed up his pep talk with illustrations of competitors who succeeded at college wrestling’s top level despite torn ACLs. He mentioned John Kading, who reached the 197-pound NCAA final in 1997 for Oklahoma. He brought up Lee Fullhart, an NCAA champion for Iowa who overcame a significant issue to earn one of his four all-America finishes. There were others, too, like Owen Elzen, who placed third in 2001 at 197, helping Minnesota claim its first national title.
Peters said doctors told him he could be putting other ligaments at risk by continuing to wrestle this year, but he felt the bigger gamble was sitting out the rest of the season and rolling the dice on receiving a possible medical hardship waiver.
“I didn’t really want to lose a year at all,” he said. “We never looked at a medical redshirt, but I heard they’re hard to get. Then talking to Doug, I had confidence that our staff wouldn’t put me in a position where I was going to take losses. Or maybe I was going to take losses, but we were going to find a way to adjust.”
By and large, Peters has adapted. He’s figured out which positions he needs to avoid and how to deal with the cumbersome brace. He’s been forced at times to make in-match adjustments.
“You don’t really know where you’re at and you come back and find ways to win with injuries and it adds confidence,” he said. “The Iowa State match, I’m losing to (Kyle) Larson in the first period and I’m kind of shaky if I made the right choice. I just found a way to get back in the match and win.”
With it, he’s been a beacon of toughness for Northern Iowa’s program. Schwab said Peters has shown other Panthers that “whatever it is, they can overcome it if they get themselves in the right frame of mind.”
“We’ve had some other guys who have been injured significantly, too,” Schwab said. “And I think they look at him and think, ‘This guy’s doing it, I’m going to at least try.’
“I’m impressed with how he’s went about things. He wants to finish it off right this year, and I’m certainly not going to count him out of anything.”