Taking a Knee: Star high school quarterback recovers from early injuries thanks to USC Center for Sports Medicine

Palos Verdes High School was a long shot to take the CIF football championship in 2015 and when the underdogs took the prize, their senior quarterback, Steven Delcarson, was showered with accolades. He was named the league’s most valuable player, the most valuable player in CIF, and Palos Verdes High’s athlete of the year.

The honors were particularly important to Delcarson because he, too, was something of a long shot. He had a serious injury to his knee just before starting high school that, had it not been handled better, might have kept him on the bench.

It was during a routine tackling drill at football practice, one that he had done hundreds of times before, that Delcarson somehow caught his foot on the field. He knew it was stuck, but he tried to stay upright and he wrenched his knee.

An orthopaedic surgeon near his home in Palos Verdes examined the eighth-grader and determined he probably had a small tear in the ligament. He prescribed time off from sports to let the knee heal, physical therapy to strengthen his muscles and assured the active teen that he would be back on the field in a few months.

“It was pretty painful, but the PT seemed to be working,” says Delcarson, who graduated from Palos Verdes High School in 2015. “I did the therapy for three months and by early November, it was feeling pretty good.”

Sports were always a big part of Delcarson’s life. He played football, basketball and lacrosse on school teams. After school and on weekends, his circle of friends often headed to nearby parks for games of pickup basketball or to kick soccer balls around. As soon as he got a clean bill of health from his doctor, Delcarson returned to playing sports. Almost immediately, he knew something was still wrong.

“I could tell when I made cuts, had to stop quick and change direction, that my knee still wasn’t 100 percent,” recalls Delcarson.

It wasn’t long before he had another collision on the football field, one that landed another player on top of Delcarson’s leg, which made him realize that his knee was in far worse shape than his doctor thought.

“I felt the same thing that I felt during the first injury,” says Delcarson. This time his surgeon realized the meniscus was completely torn and Delcarson needed surgery, but he wasn’t prepared to perform it. Delcarson’s injury was a complex tear and repairing it would involve drilling through the growth plate in his knee, which might have stunted his growth.

The surgeon referred Delcarson to George ”Rick” Hatch, MD, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and a faculty surgeon in the USC Center for Sports Medicine. Delcarson says Hatch explained clearly to the family that there were risks because his injury was not a straightforward case. Repairing his knee would involve two surgeries and a lengthy recovery, during which time Delcarson would have to keep his knee completely straight to avoid another injury, and months of physical therapy.

Delcarson had the surgery and he now says Hatch is the reason he was able to play both quarterback and linebacker as a senior at Palos Verdes and was recruited to play football at USC, and several other universities around the country. In the end, he chose to attend the University of Pennsylvania. Although he isn’t playing football this year, he is grateful that — thanks to surgery — sports will always be part of his life.

USC sports medicine physicians are dedicated to returning athletes and weekend warriors to their activities. The doctors of the USC Center for Sports Medicine are the official team doctors to the USC intercollegiate teams.

by Hope Hamashige

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