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Ready, willing, able: Gast returning to school team after nine month ACL recovery

12/26/2020, 12:45am CST
By Shreya Beldona, Executive Enterprise Editor

DECEMBER 14, 2020

On the morning of March 6, 2019, Tannya Gast received a call from Coppell coach James Balcom in which she learned her son, Coppell senior forward Brandon Gast – then a sophomore – had been in an accident during practice.

As she arrived to see her son lying on a stretcher, the trainers informed her they suspected a right ACL tear, but Mrs. Gast hoped it was a sprain or a pull. Three days later, the trainers’ suspicions were confirmed.

“It took a chunk out of me when I couldn’t play because I have never not played soccer since I was 3,” Brandon said. “I never thought I would tear my ACL. I never thought I would be injured like this.”

As a freshman, Brandon hoped to play at the collegiate level before his ACL tear, especially after his early success. He scored the winning goal in the 2017 U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships while playing for Solar Soccer Club U-16/17 and witnessed a crowd of over a thousand watching and cheering.

“That was probably the happiest moment of my husband [David Gast] and I’s lifetime,” Mrs. Gast said. “You just look around at the whole field – it was just amazing. It makes me want to cry every time I talk about it.”

During his sophomore year, Brandon was one of the youngest players on the team, his first year on varsity.

“I actually fit in surprisingly well,” Brandon said. “[The rest of my teammates] treated me like I wasn’t an underclassman. They did make me take in the gear for the whole year and it was horrible, but a lot of the guys helped me work my way into the varsity system.”

Though Brandon was performing well on his team, in March, he had torn his ACL. With one test, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Daniel Cooper had confirmed Brandon’s injury.

“Within 10 seconds, [Dr. Cooper] had told me I had torn my ACL just from doing certain movements with my knee,” Brandon said. “My mom and I were just sitting there, emotional, and I just looked forward and I said, ‘In nine months from now, I’ll be able to play again.’”

Determined to come back as quickly as possible, Brandon fought against the recovery time frame, challenging the nine month process.

“Surprisingly, I wasn’t too nervous before surgery,” Brandon said. “I was just trying to get it over with.”

But as he saw his leg after coming out of surgery and the difficulty of just walking, Brandon realized the mental six-month timeframe he had set for himself was not realistic.

“I was in so much pain after surgery,” Brandon said. “I was super emotional. [My leg] looked like a chicken leg [after surgery]; it was so skinny. [All my muscles] were gone; it was erased.”

For the first few weeks after his surgery, Brandon endured severe pain and relied on those around him, especially Mrs. Gast.

“We could barely get to the restroom without him [falling] to the ground,” Mrs. Gast said. “I slept many nights on this little futon in his room, just being there with him. [He experienced pain] more than the time it should’ve been. When it’s a child, and it’s your child [who’s injured], it’s really hard.”

After a few weeks of unexpected levels of pain after surgery, Brandon displayed accelerated progress, completing milestone after milestone to get back as soon as he could.

“I said, ‘I’m gonna work my butt off and get through this horrible rehab,’” Brandon said. “One of the first goals you have after coming out of surgery is bending your knee to 90 degrees. I remember doing that super quickly. I thought that was a good sign, and I would be done in six months at that rate, but in the end, it didn’t change anything.”

After passing the final test clearing him for returning to soccer, Brandon returned to his Solar team, hoping to fast track regaining his skills.

“The competitiveness [of club soccer] is a little higher [than school soccer],” Brandon said. “Unfortunately, I came back not the player I was before my injury, and it set me back. I came back [to school soccer] this year because I actually quit club, because it wasn’t the best thing for me. I wanted to have my last soccer season with the kids I grew up with.”

Within four months of playing for club soccer after his injury, competing at club level was not as feasible as Brandon had thought. With a call to Balcom, Brandon returned to the Cowboys.

“[Brandon] gave [club soccer] every ounce of energy he had to get back out there on the field, to play ball like he did before, and it just didn’t come back,” said Mrs. Gast, as tears welled up in her eyes. “He said ‘Mom, I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I can’t do it. They’re too good; they’re much better than I am, so I am leaving [club soccer].’”

Now, Brandon serves as a role model for other members on the varsity team.

“We adopted the philosophy that you lead by example,” Coppell senior center defender Collin MacDonald said. “[Brandon] showed up and worked hard, especially during a grueling, long off-season. I haven’t seen this fire from him before and it’s great to see again that he’s itching to play.”

Tag(s): Varsity