Steven Contreras walked back onto a football field eight months to the day after he underwent one of the most painful procedures possible: A lower leg amputation. The amazing thing is that he wasn't there to watch the game, he was there to play in it.
That's right, Contreras -- who lost his lower left leg to a bone tumor -- is back in action for his eight-man high school football team at Rolling Hills (Calif.) Prep School, just outside of Los Angeles. According to the new Olympic sports blog 3WireSports.com and AIPS Media, the lineman first learned of his ailment after his ankle began hurting during a game last year, and his parents took him to an urgent care center. That center then referred him to an orthopedic specialist, who told the teenager that he had a form of Ewing's sarcoma in his ankle.
A sophomore at the time of diagnosis, Contreras started chemotherapy on Dec. 5 and continued for exactly three months. With little signs of his cancer going into remission, doctors determined the only thing they could do was amputate his lower leg before the cancer spread.
The junior claims that football provided the motivation to speed up his recovery and get back to a stage when it wouldn't be considered abnormal to see him on a field.
"That was the turning point for me," Contreras told 3WireSports.com. "[OK], it's gone. They need to do this to save my life and I'm [OK] with it. [Returning to football] was my main goal. To get back on the football field with my brothers."
While re-learning to walk with a prosthetic leg can often take weeks, or even a month, Contreras only used crutches for a single day. And he was already campaigning to get back on the field, "as soon as I get the stent out of my chest."
"I said, ‘Steven, as long as you get cleared by the doctor and the parents, we'll get you back in shape and make sure you put in the time and if it's [OK] for you to play -- you've got it,'" Rolling Hills Prep coach Frank Frisina told 3WireSports.com
It turns out, by acts of sheer willpower and a little help from Contreras' self-identified brothers on his football team -- who helped fundraise to get him a top-of-the-line prosthetic -- the lineman was back in time for Rolling Hills Prep's final regular-season game, against L.A.'s Ribet Academy.
Contreras entered once Rolling Hills had racked up a big first-quarter lead, played gingerly for a few plays, then was pulled off. As soon as he hit the sideline, he was already lobbying to go back in the game, and this time to play at full speed. His coach gave him the go-ahead, and finally, Contreras was back to playing as he always had, as if he hadn't ever lost his leg in the first place.
"It has been really inspiring," Kevin Kole, the Rolling Hills Prep placekicker told 3WireSports.com. "He was always trying, always at practice every day. But his leg wasn't ready ... He kept getting new legs. They kept breaking because he kept jumping and running. This one now, it works -- but we had to wrap it in all this foam."
Contreras played again the next week, working his way in on six or seven snaps during Rolling Hills' playoff victory over Nuview Bridge. Whether he gets more work as the playoffs continue remains to be seen, but with a senior season still off in the distance, one thing seems certain: Steven Contreras is back, and it'll take a lot more than a leg to get him off the field again.