HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, N.J. -- It's a few days before Thanksgiving and Dylan Freschi of Hasbrouck Heights has a lot to be thankful for.
The football team's center and his teammates will play in the state finals Sunday, Dec. 4.
But he’s had a long, painful road back to his starting role due to an undiagnosed knee injury and surgery took him out of the game he loves for most of his junior year.
Freschi played football starting at five years old. He began feeling pain in seventh and eighth grades, but just took pain relievers and played through it.
A physical examination in his sophomore year by the team trainer Justin Schmarak uncovered an issue.
“He said ‘Stand up and flex your leg,’” recounted Freschi. “’He said that this one (left knee) was so much smaller than the other one. You’re probably using this one way too much.
"There may be something wrong with that one.”
A doctor’s visit and MRI found a problem with the soft bone in the knee.
The original plan was to fix it arthroscopically, using small incisions, a camera, and a big screw. But doctors found pieces of cartilage floating around so they made a four-inch incision, removed the floating pieces and two centimeters of bone, and drilled down behind the knee to release bone marrow to help generate new cartilage.
One week later he began physical therapy at HackensackUMC Fitness and Wellness. Although given crutches after surgery, he was told he could put pressure on it. His mother, Kelly, issued her own dose of tough love.
“If you’re okay to put pressure on it, then no crutches,” she said.
Dylan spent his entire summer in rehab – three days a week, riding the exercise bike, stretching and breaking up the scar tissue so it wouldn’t harden, get tight and slow the healing process.
“That was the hardest part,” he said.
A team of three physical therapists came up with a plan to eliminate the ‘clicking’ in his knee and target and strengthen the muscles. He also had to cross-train teammate James Varga to replace him at center for the upcoming season. All the hard work paid off when he was medically cleared to play in late October, and returned as the long snapper.
“I was excited to see him back,” said his mother. His father, Fred, however, had concerns.
“At first, I was nervous when he went back out, and every time he goes out there...even today,” he said.
“I promised him, whatever it takes to get you through your senior year,” continued Freschi’s father. “I’d duct tape it back together, splint it, cast it, whatever it takes.”
Ironically, Dylan’s great grandfather, Fred Freschi, had his collegiate career cut short by a knee injury. He was a standout athlete at East Rutherford High School, Class of 1939 (now Becton High School.) A member of the Wildcat Hall of Fame, he was a three-time varsity letter winner in football, with four in track and two in basketball. Dylan is a three-time letter winner in football, wrestling and track.
Aside from sports, Dylan is also involved in Student Council, Key Club, volunteer wrestling coach, and has an externship in the outpatient physical therapy department at HackensackUMC, giving him additional insight for majoring in Athletic Training in college.
And what about the upcoming state championship game in MetLife Stadium?
“We aren’t doing anything different. We want to keep everything the same.”
“It’s playing for each other…the brotherhood and the friends that have been together since we’ve been seven years old.”