It’s been a long road back for A.J. Gustaveson. The incoming Live Oak High senior played one snap last year before it was discovered he had suffered a torn ACL, MCL and LCL in his right knee. Although the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is a common injury among athletes, tearing the MCL (medial collateral ligament) and LCL (lateral collateral ligament) are not. Gustaveson had basically blown out his entire knee, a significant injury to a player who had a breakout sophomore season.
“I was definitely at an all-time low when it happened,” he said. “But all my friends and family have been there to support me. It was really hard at first, but I’m getting a lot better.”
An impact running back and cornerback, Gustaveson was second on the team in rushing two years ago behind standout Cole Davis. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Gustaveson played 10 games that season before an injury knocked him out for the playoffs.
He got in one snap in the 2018 season, meaning he will have gone almost two years between snaps by the time he takes the field this year. Gustaveson hopes to get cleared to play by the third or fourth game of the season. Whenever the senior takes the field, it’ll be a monumental achievement. Whether or not he eventually returns to his 2017 form is not as important as the fact that he would have came back from a significant injury that could’ve ended his career.
“My No. 1 goal this summer was to get my knee back to normal shape,” he said. “It’s about 75 or 80 percent right now. I’m getting a lot of strength back, and now it’s getting the right knee similar to the size of the left knee. After I got surgery (on Nov. 2), all the muscles in my knee had atrophied, so I have to build it back up. I’ve made progress, but I’m still not there yet.”
Despite graduating no less than a half-dozen senior starters off last year’s team, the Acorns have a promising group of players, Gustaveson said. Even though rehab was difficult in the early going, Gustaveson said his knee has responded to the point he’s able to do a lot of cardio and strength-training exercises like squats and leg presses. Gustaveson has tremendous vision, allowing him to spot the hole and run for the optimal yardage available on a given play.
Agile and quick, Gustaveson plays physical and tough on defense. Gustaveson started playing football when he was 5 years old, first for the San Jose Almaden Mustangs and then the Morgan Hill Raiders, both of the Pop Warner League. Two years ago, Gustaveson and his older brother, Blake, at times times were the two Live Oak High cornerbacks on the field. That season made for a memorable experience, and A.J. is hopeful the 2019 season will feature plenty of new memories he’ll be able to take with him long after his playing career is over.