By MICHAEL BURWELL
OTTAWA — With 6:05 left in the first quarter of Ottawa-Glandorf’s nonleague boys basketball game against Bowling Green on Dec. 19, Jay Kaufman checked in for the Titans.
It wasn’t just any regular substitution, though. The cheers from the O-G home crowd as he jogged out on the court proved that it meant a lot more.
Kaufman, a senior who in late April tore his ACL in his right knee for the second time in a 21/2-year span, completed his comeback and has already played a big part for the unbeaten Titans.
“Coming back from an ACL injury is definitely a tough thing,” Kaufman said. “It’s a long process, therapy almost five times a week, rehabbing every day. It’s a tough process.
“It was definitely exciting to be able to be back out on the court in a competitive environment for the first time in about eight or so months.”
Kaufman, a 6-foot-4 forward in basketball and a dual-threat quarterback on the football field, was coming off a successful junior year.
He earned second-team all-Ohio honors at quarterback in leading O-G’s football team to an 11-2 record, a share of the Western Buckeye League title and a spot in the Division IV, Region 14 final. He was also the WBL boys basketball and District 8 Division I-II-III Player of the Year and a second team all-Ohioan in Division II in guiding the Titans to a 21-3 record, including a 9-0 mark in the WBL.
But in April, a familiar injury struck him again.
Kaufman was playing in an AAU basketball game for Northwest Ohio. He said he made a simple cut “like I’ve done probably a thousand times before,” but the result was another torn ACL.
“It was just a freak accident I guess, nothing I could really do about it,” he said. “Right when I did it, I was pretty positive that’s what it was, so it was kind of a heartbreaker realizing I would probably miss my senior year of football and then possibly a little bit of my start of my senior basketball season as well.”
O-G boys basketball coach Tyson McGlaughlin said he remembers getting the call from Kaufman the night of his injury.
“I just remember from just the first words out of his mouth, I could tell that something was obviously wrong and I could just hear the pain in his voice,” McGlaughlin said. “It just speaks volumes for how much he loves the game and how much it affected him. It wasn’t just him; it was his family, it was his teammates, his classmates, his coach.”
Kaufman was sidelined for the 2017 football season due to the injury, which meant the Titans were without one of the most productive players in the area.
In 2016, he threw for 2,372 yards and 23 touchdowns while adding 1,034 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground.
Kaufman helped O-G take down previously-unbeaten St. Marys Memorial 13-7 in Week 10 to give the Titans a WBL title share. He racked up more than 500 total yards and seven touchdowns in playoff wins over Bellevue and Indian Lake before the Titans fell to eventual state champion Columbus Bishop Hartley 38-35 in the Region 14 final.
“(The injury) was very difficult but the biggest thing was my heart was broken for him, knowing he does love the game of football,” O-G football coach Ken Schriner said. “He loves all sports, but to take one of the best athletes around and he cannot play the sport he really loves was definitely a heartbreaker.”
O-G, which dropped from Division IV to Division V in 2017, was decimated by injuries in going 3-7, its first losing record since 2003 and only the fourth in Schriner’s 22 years as coach. The Titans lost quarterbacks Jeremy Leopold and Jaden Siebeneck to injuries as well, and numerous other players at other positions were also injured.
“We had a crazy year of injuries. We had countless guys that had season-ending injuries,” Kaufman said. “I tried to help them out, keep them positive, let them know that as long as they work hard and rehab well, they’ll come back stronger than they were before.”
Added Schriner: “Even without playing this season, he was still voted at the end of the season as one of our captains. That tells you what kind of respect our kids have for him as well.”
Kaufman had surgery on May 12 to repair his knee. Exactly seven months later, he was cleared to practice and play.
Going through the injury the first time — in late 2014 during the first week of basketball practice — helped Kaufman the second time.
“It helped me stay positive and realizing that I would eventually get better, even though it seemed like sometimes throughout the process that you can’t do simple things,” Kaufman said. “You just got to keep working hard.
“It helped me realize that it will get better and you got to keep fighting and keep pushing.”
McGlaughlin, along with O-G athletic trainer Jess Michel, made sure that Kaufman didn’t overwork himself.
“His strength and his recovery time, it was very impressive. We had to shut him down a couple different times during this process because he was, it wasn’t that he was trying to do too much, but we wanted to make sure it was done right,” McGlaughlin said.
“That’s hard for a kid that, he wants to push himself, he wants to get out there as fast as possible. But there are doctors behind there that know a heck of a lot more than what we do.”
Kaufman’s work ethic and determination to get back for basketball season exemplifies his work off the court and football field as well.
Kaufman was one of just 25 finalists across the country for the 2017 U.S. Army/Pro Football Hall of Fame Award For Excellence, which recognizes sophomores, juniors and seniors who have great athletic achievement, excellence in academics and community engagement.
“That was a great honor. The U.S. Army and Pro Football Hall of Fame teamed up to make that award, and that’s just two things that I value a lot: sports and the military,” said Kaufman.
“I have the highest appreciation for people serving our country and then obviously, I’m big into sports so those two teaming up to make an award like that, it was pretty special to be one of 25 finalists in the United States for that award.”
Kaufman also has a 4.0 GPA and is part of the WBL Sportsmanship Committee.
“I’ve always worked my hardest. I think my parents (Glenn and Jill Kaufman) kind of instilled that in me that if you work hard and believe that you can do it, you’re going to accomplish whatever you want so I think my parents kind of instilled that in me and so did my grandparents,” Kaufman said. “My work ethic in the classroom, that’s what’s going to take you after you’re done with your sports career, that’s what’s going to take you the rest of your life. That’s definitely more important than even anything athletically.”
The combination of his athletic and academic achievements has helped him get offers to play college football from several schools, including Army, Eastern Kentucky and Ohio Dominican.
Kaufman said he’s still considering playing college football, since “that was always a dream from when I was a little kid to be able to play college football.” He said he’ll focus on that decision more after basketball since he was determined to get through his knee injury and get on the court first.
He has already made his presence felt on the hardwood.
Kaufman, who averaged 18.5 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game a year ago, returned for the Bowling Green game and scored seven points in limited action in the Titans’ 67-39 win.
“I talked to him before the game and after, and I just told him afterwards I couldn’t be happier for him,” McGlaughlin said. “And I meant that from the bottom of my heart because you see how much the kid put into it and you saw that emotion going in.”
In the Titans’ next game, a nonleague matchup against 2017 Division III state semifinalist Archbold on Saturday, Kaufman scored 17 points, including a go-ahead baseline jumper with just four seconds left to give O-G a 66-65 lead. The Titans won 70-65 to improve to 7-0.
O-G, which has eight letterwinners back and a plethora of scoring options, is averaging 74 points per game and has eclipsed the 90-point mark twice this season.
“I’m really excited. I’d be excited no matter what, but coming back from this injury makes it even more exciting,” Kaufman said. “We have 10, 11, 12 guys that will come in and play significant minutes. On any given night, any guy can be the leading scorer or come up with the big play here or there or just make a key play to help win a game.”
The biggest challenge for McGlaughlin is finding the right spot for Kaufman while keeping the team chemistry that the Titans built during the summer, practices and games.
“We play a lot of guys, and you can only play five guys at a time and finding the right personnel and finding the right chemistry between everybody is tough,” McGlaughlin said. “…People are starting to get used to one another and Jay’s a ball-dominant type of guy.
“That’s not a negative thing on Jay, but the ball is in his hands a lot. So you have to be able to adjust to that and that takes time. But the good thing about it; we don’t have to worry about peaking too early … We’ve got plenty of time to jell and we’ve got unselfish guys that want to win.”
McGlaughlin, Schriner and the O-G community understand how much the comeback means to Kaufman. Although he was out for football season, Kaufman’s return to basketball has provided a big spark.
“It was just an exciting time for everybody,” Schriner said. “It was great to see the fans show their support of what he’s been through and just to know the effort that it takes to go through an injury like that and to be able to get yourself back.
“Honestly, I was nervous just because I haven’t seen him play. I’ve talked to him a number of times in school and he’s just a good kid and he’s got a great future ahead. It brought a chill to me, it made me really appreciate what he’s done and I think everybody there as well.”
Send an E-mail to Mike Burwell
By MICHAEL BURWELL