Blu Caylor has gotten to know the athletic trainers at Texas Tech University extremely well. He has learned that they are great at what they do — but that’s not the way the former Yellow Jackets football standout wanted things to go.

After an outstanding three-year run — racking up almost 400 tackles — as a starting linebacker on the SHS varsity, Caylor headed off to Tech in the category of “preferred walk-on” with the Red Raiders. But what had been an injury-free path for Caylor went off the rails when his right knee buckled during offseason non-contact workouts.

Caylor has no problem remembering the exact day his freshman season ended.

“July 11 was the day I tore my ACL, MCL, meniscus (and had a) microfracture,” Caylor recalled when he sat down earlier this week with the E-T while he was home for the Christmas break. “It was just a freak (injury). I was running out to a screen and my knee just buckled. I tried to change direction.”

On Aug. 6, Caylor had major reconstructive surgery in Lubbock to replace the damage. Dr. Kevin Crawford, Texas Tech’s orthopedic surgery, performed the procedure using a patellar tendon graft.

“Since I had the microfracture, since I had that bone problem, I wasn’t able to walk for six weeks,” Caylor said. “So I was on crutches for six weeks. Most ACL surgeries, you can walk after a week. But I had to stay on crutches for six. So it kind of made the first part of the school year a little rough.”

He spent about about 2-1/2 hours each day going through physical rehab.

All-state credentials

Caylor was one of several key players who were part of a large senior class of 30 who graduated in the spring of 2019 following the 2018 season at SHS. As juniors, that talented group had helped lead the Yellow Jackets to the Class 4A Division I state semifinals and posted a 12-3 record. 

The 6-2, 220-pound Caylor recorded 189 tackles at linebacker his junior year, and followed that with 152 stops as a senior. He was voted as the District 5-4A Most Valuable Player and was named second-team all-state by the Texas Sports Writers Association that season. He had been the district’s Defensive MVP as a junior in 2017.

10 on a pain scale of 10

Caylor described the pain he felt after he heard his knee snap as “definitely a 10” on a scale of one to 10.

“Once it happened and I got carted off, I was just biting my lip because I knew it was something bad,” Caylor said. “I heard a pop and couldn’t even stand up. It was definitely a 10. It hurt bad.”

Caylor got a call from his former SHS head coach, Greg Winder, and Winder’s wife, Debbie, who are now working for Lewisville High School. Debbie Winder was the former head athletic trainer for the Yellow Jackets, affectionately known as “coach” Debbie.

“Coach Winder and coach Debbie called me after my surgery and kind of gave me a little pep talk … to not give up and (to say) I can beat this,” Caylor said. “My parents (Kyle and Susan Caylor) and the trainers and my friends have been there for me through the dark and the light, and I couldn’t have gotten through this without my parents or those trainers at Tech. I appreciate all that my friends and my parents and the trainers have done for me.

“A lot of people don’t even want to play after that’s happened to them. I knew I wanted to get back as quick as I could and I wanted to play as soon as I could. There’s been a lot of hard times. It’s gotten better over time and I’ve just stuck with it.”

Caylor said that he knew if he just gave up on football, “down the road I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”

Coming back

Caylor, who is majoring in sports management and minoring in business, said his rehab progress is coming along well.

“I started back squatting probably a week before I came home,” said Caylor, who has an older brother, Cole Caylor. “I can sprint (straight) now, I just can’t change direction yet. Running really doesn’t hurt. I’ve just got to get that strength back in my quad and everything. Lunges and squats hurt pretty bad, but it’s supposed to. 

“I’m able to pad up in spring ball, just no contact for the spring. I can do drills and everything. I’m OK with that, to be honest. You know, I haven’t put a helmet on in over a year, so I’m ok with just getting to go out there and do drills and kind of learn and get ready. 

“Right after spring ball I’ll be 100 percent. They (the trainers) told me once June hits, I’ll forget I even had the injury. I know the trainers better than my teammates. I’m with them every day, all day. And once fall hits of 2020 I should be ready to rock and roll and go.”

Caylor said Tech’s athletic trainers, “help keep me up mentally, spiritually, and obviously physically. My parents both were very impressed with them.”

New coaching staff

In their first season under new head coach Matt Wells and his new staff, the Red Raiders had a 4-8 record (2-7 in the Big 12).

“I love them,” Caylor said of the coaches. “They are old-school type coaches. They’re trying to build a culture that they want (with) blue-collar type players. That’s what they want to build their culture around.”

As for his road back to being physically sound and having a chance to compete for playing time, for now Caylor is mostly focused on doing the rehab work.

“There will be a good fight (at linebacker),” Caylor predicted. “I want to do it bad. But we’ll see how it goes. I’m hoping to make the special teams, like a kickoff (team) or something this year (in 2020).”

Playing time will come, he said, “Just by competing — whoever wants it more.”