LINCOLN — Ty Kildow planted his right knee last year, felt what no football player wants to feel and crumpled to the Hawks Center turf.
And anybody looking for one more reason to dismiss the Millard South receiver had it.
On the doorstep of his senior season — and on the verge, perhaps, of seeing recruiting interest in him take off — Kildow tore both the ACL and MCL in his knee at the Run-N-Gun seven-on-seven passing tournament last June 14 at Nebraska.
Geez, he already was only 5-foot-7. Now he had a bad knee? Any Division I-A schools with a hint of doubt were free to scratch his name off the list.
But Nebraska didn't go away. Head coach Bo Pelini visited Kildow in the training room after the injury and said NU would keep recruiting him. Assistant coach Barney Cotton kept the handwritten letters coming until Kildow agreed in January to come as a preferred walk-on.
Today Kildow is among the newcomers joining the Huskers' summer program. New surroundings but familiar territory — the underestimated kid giving away inches and pounds to everybody else when lifting weights in the Osborne Complex weight room or running on the grass and turf fields.
“I really believe I'm ready for this,'' said Kildow, who started NU classes last week. “I'm excited to compete. I think if I can be 100 percent healthy I'll be able to compete well and be ready for whatever's thrown at me.''
Worth watching will be how fast Kildow runs.
The week before hurting the knee, he had clocked a 4.39-second 40-yard dash during the Big Red Football School. It's what piqued the interest of the NU staff, and likely would have done the same with other staffs had he attended camps at places such as Iowa and Iowa State later last summer.
“I had a lot of camps lined up, where I think if I was able to do what I did at Nebraska there would have been a lot more interest in me as far as Division I schools,'' Kildow said. “I never got the opportunity to show them.''
The 4.39 40 is something special. No more than a few current Huskers are capable of running that fast. That's what separated Kildow from anybody else 5-7 with a dream of playing Big 12 football.
Millard South coach Andy Means recalls Kildow from his All-Nebraska junior season, how he could accelerate so quickly. Make something out of nothing.
“Only two other high school players I've ever seen can do what he could do in high school, and it's Eric Crouch and Ahman Green,'' said Means, a former Husker cornerback. “And it would not just be me telling you that.''
In the past 12 months, Kildow's 40 time turned into the benchmark in his recovery. If thoughts that he might never be the same again crept into his mind, he would quickly send them away. And work harder.
“I mean, everybody I talked to, the doctors and the trainers down there, they all said that I'll come back just as fast as I was, if not even faster,'' he said. “That just kept me going.''
Means wouldn't have expected anything different.
“I knew this kid, and I knew his work ethic,'' Means said. “I told anybody that would listen he would do exactly what they tell him to do, do it as hard as he can do it, and do it over and over again.''
His recovery fell just short of allowing him to rejoin Millard South during its run to the Class A state final. By January and February, he was keeping pace with the high-level high school and college athletes working out at Going Vertical, a facility aimed at improving athletic performance.
Kildow repeated as an all-state baseball player in the spring, and Means said the Patriots' baseball coaches told him that Kildow's 60-yard dash was only one-tenth of a second slower than the year before.
Today he'll join an NU roster with just one returnee listed shorter than 5-10 (5-9 receiver John Dostal, a redshirt freshman out of Omaha Gross). Kildow is 170 pounds now, but can see himself getting to 180 and maintaining his speed.
“I think he's always had to kind of prove himself,'' said Jack Kildow, Ty's father. “I used to just tell him if he were any taller he probably wouldn't be that fast. But it probably made him have that work ethic, to make up for being undersized.
“I've never seen a kid work so hard. He just plugs away and stays focused. The type that is pretty much self-motivated.''
Kildow is driven by wanting to be a Division I player and reward Nebraska for its faith when the only other programs staying with him were the likes of North Dakota and South Dakota State.
“I'm sure he's been discouraged at times, but he just presses on,'' Means said. “If he's playing, if he's returning kicks or whatever, I won't be surprised.''
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