Devin Lewis knew, but he wanted to be sure. So he pulled himself off the turf at Ayala High in Chino Hills and jogged toward the sideline.
The dull, numb pain in his knee told him he was right.
He knew his season and career had ended while blocking on a punt return in the first round of the 2016 CIF-Southern Section Division 7 playoffs.
He wouldn’t be playing safety during the Grizzlies’ groundbreaking postseason run. Heck, he wouldn’t be running anytime soon, period.
For the second time in two years, he’d torn an anterior cruciate ligament, this one in his left knee, as doctors would later confirm.
After months of rehab had put him back on the field, the same injury pulled him off it.
Indeed, not every sports story has a Hollywood ending, at least in the athletic sense.
Lewis, a senior, had hoped to play college football. But he hadn’t banked on it. His parents always preached education first, and he believed.
Lewis’ story is unfortunate, yes. A tragedy, far from it.
He plans to study human biology at UC San Diego, hoping to one day develop technology that could prevent the injuries that derailed his football path, but hardly his life.
There and back again
Lewis began playing football at age 6 or 7. His bent was always defense, where he could be the punisher rather than the punished.
After two seasons captaining teams at Golden Valley’s lower levels, he broke through onto the varsity as a junior.
The excitement of the feat lasted into the team’s fourth game.
On Sept. 18, 2015, sometime in the second half, Lewis found himself responsible for Agoura High of Agoura Hills’ slot receiver.
The wideout started upfield, imitated a corner route, then burst up the seam. Lewis stayed with him, deflected the pass and then felt his right knee give way.
He tried to stand but crumpled. Tests showed he’d torn his meniscus in two places and completely torn his ACL.
“It was pretty devastating knowing what you wanted to do, what you put your life through for so many years, is coming to an end,” he says.
But only temporarily. Lewis aimed to return in time to claim a starting spot at safety as a senior.
For the first couple weeks, that meant staying mostly in bed, enduring sensations akin to blood rushing down his leg.
Gradually he put more pressure on his ailing limb. About a month after the October 2015 surgery, he began physical therapy and by month three or four, he was running and jogging.
Meanwhile, he didn’t drift from his team. He attended practices and games, cheering on the Grizzlies as they won a Foothill League game for the first time in program history and taking mental notes on the sidelines.
In summer 2016, he returned for 7-on-7 passing competition, not at 100 percent but closing on it.
By the time Golden Valley opened with a 28-0 win over Antelope Valley High on Aug. 26, Lewis, fully healthy, was back at safety.
“He was actually an inspiration to a lot of guys out there,” says Golden Valley coach Dan Kelley. “Kids really rallied behind him, and when he came back, it was a great addition.”
The Grizzlies played inspired football in 2016, winning two Foothill League games for the second straight year and making the first playoff appearance in program history.
Lewis made 40 total tackles on the year and intercepted a pass in a win over Royal of Simi Valley on Sept. 2.
“It was all worth it,” Lewis said of rehab, “making history was the most amazing goal or achievement you could get out of your high school experience.”
Then came the Ayala of Chino Hills game, the first step in what would be Golden Valley’s first ever trip to a CIF semifinal.
In the first half, the Bulldogs punter boomed a kick downfield. As Lewis went to make a block, he overextended his leg.
“Instantly when it happened, I knew,” Lewis says. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I just tore it again. What did I just do?’”
He’d ended his football career. Needing a second surgery, he couldn’t risk the necessity, and price, of a third. Suffering the same injury also made him rethink whether he should be playing football.
“You kind of question yourself,” Lewis says, “if this is what you were meant to do.”
Apparently, he had another calling.
Calling a prevent defense
Lewis’ parent’s message wasn’t as unique as it was effective.
Football, they said, wasn’t guaranteed. But while an injured leg or bum shoulder could end an athletic career, neither could rob Lewis of his mind.
And did he ever have a mind.
In four years at Golden Valley, Lewis accumulated a 4.33 GPA. This spring he was honored as part of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame scholar-athlete program, which highlights honor students who also excel in football.
Still, his mother, Carrie, says his academic focus intensified after his first injury. It also narrowed.
Growing up, Lewis had always been entertained by math and science, but how that fit into his future, he didn’t know.
Then, after his first surgery, a doctor showed him the play-by-play, not only of how the procedure had been done, but how Lewis might help athletes in the future.
First, the doctor displayed a picture of Lewis’ pre-surgery knee.
Then, he pulled up an image showing where holes had been drilled in the bone to make a pathway for Lewis’ quadriceps tendon, which replaced the torn ligament as a graft.
The final image showed Lewis’ reconstructed knee.
The conversation showed Lewis the way.
“I want to aspire to be an orthopedic surgeon,” says Lewis, who will leave for UC San Diego in September. “I see myself working for the NFL or NBA or something.”
“I want to develop some type of technology that can counteract, basically prevent, ACL injuries from ever happening again,” Lewis says.
Carrie believes the job would be a good fit because her son would’ve already been in his patients’ shoes.
“He’s been through those injuries,” she says. “He wants to be there for athletes. He says ‘I want to help athletes because I know exactly what they’re going through.’”