“I knew it happened right away because it kept buckling, but I finished the rest of the game and that was it for me.”
The Santa Clarita Christian School’s football team was in the middle of a battle against Saddleback Valley Christian on Oct. 5, 2017. Ethan Schwesinger had accumulated seven receptions for 164 yards plus an interception.
It was the beginning of the second half and Schwesinger knew from experience what just happened. The anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee had ripped. It was the second time he’d suffer the gruesome injury in a two-year span.
“The first one was during a seven-on-seven tournament, it was non-contact,” Schwesinger explained. “It happened because I was super tired and being lazy with my form.”
The second one happened during the Saddleback game, again non-contact. It was more of a freak one because it looked like a normal movement.”
Schwesinger would go on to finish the contest against Saddleback Valley Christian, a remarkable feat in itself and a true test to his grit.
The fact that he’s back out on the field less than a year later, playing some of the best football of his career, is miraculous.
In the first three games of the 2018 season, the Cardinals multidimensional receiver has 12 catches for 242 yards and three touchdowns.
Undoubtedly, his body still needs to get used to the physical toll the sport takes on a player. Some post-game stretching has helped ease the process so far.
“After the first two games I felt like my body was in shock. The first practice back, I felt like I could barely breathe because my core was sore,” Schwesinger said. “After this last game, I came home and stretched for 20 minutes and I woke up the next morning, I felt completely fine.”
For Schwesinger, the injury always sits in the back of his mind. Although he doesn’t want to play tentatively, and putting so much focus into not getting hurt usually results in the opposite, but it’s difficult not to think about it.
It’s also altered his style of play, as he is making a conscious effort to get lower and keep his hips involved.
“All throughout physical therapy and working through muscle memory, I’ve been trying to stay low, keep my hips engaged,” he said. “When I was on defense this week, I noticed I was naturally lower and my hips were always engaged. My dad is also on the sideline constantly reminding me to stay low. It’s both because I think about it, but I have to be confident.”
His dad Dennis Schwesinger is the girls basketball coach at SCCS but doubles as the offensive assistant coach for the football team.
Football must run in the family because Ethan’s younger brother Carson Schwesinger is also a wide receiver on the team. Carson has 16 receptions for 235 yards and two touchdowns so far this season.
“I’m so happy for him because I always knew he was going to be super good and he’s only a sophomore,” Ethan said. “I’m excited to see how he grows and it’s always fun because we elevate each other. We’re just really supportive in general.”
The Schwesinger brothers are part of a dynamic SCCS offense that features a multitude of playmakers in its four and five wide receiver sets. Seniors John Keane and Kade Kalinske bring speed to the outside while the Schwesingers work the middle of the field.
Junior running back Lucas Pettee has also dominated in both the ground and passing game.
“It’s so nice because if one of us is covered someone has to be open. The offense is designed to find the holes in the defense and find the mismatches,” Ethan explained. “It’s very hard to stop all of us at once. We don’t have just one punch, we have a bunch of punches. Left right, left right.”
Senior quarterback Blake Kirshner has connected early and often with his receivers and has already thrown for over 800 yards in the first three weeks of the season. He’s thrown nine touchdowns to two interceptions, adding a rushing touchdown as well.
Kirshner’s accuracy has made it easy for the Cardinals receivers to make big plays.
“Blake, every single night he always gets the ball there,” Ethan said. “With his accuracy and the fact that we rarely drop the ball, it helps all of us create plays.”
In his first game back from injury, Schwesinger was reminded of how special it is to play alongside Kirshner after connecting on a 43-yard bomb late in the Cardinals’ 28-14 season-opening win over Santa Clara. It also reminded him how great it is to be back playing the sport he loves.
“It’s just this feeling that you can’t describe but you just love it so much,” he said. “It was good to see all the hard work pay off. It felt super good to be out there and when I caught the long one from Blake that was the exclamation point.”