Orange County Register
By Dan Albano
LOS ALAMITOS – Cade McConnell’s feet gently bounce off the turf as he jogs across the field near the end of the practice.
The chiseled 6-foot-2, 180-pound quarterback is a picture of fitness. He’s dressed in shorts, a tank top and headband.
One might never guess that McConnell played last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee.
“It’s remarkable,” Los Alamitos football coach Ray Fenton said. “I’ve never heard anybody playing the entire season without an ACL. Got to make a movie out of it.”
McConnell’s story certainly is uplifting. It’s also a big reason why Los Alamitos, ranked seventh in the Orange County preseason poll, is excited for a schedule stacked with challenges.
One of its senior leaders has shown the determination to come back from ACL surgery — twice.
“Just that passion,” Fenton said of McConnell’s example. “Now, he’s got all his tools.”
McConnell tore his right ACL for the second time just a few days before last season in a non-contact play during practice.
It was almost the worst of sequels. He missed most of his sophomore season with a torn ACL from another non-contact play.
McConnell managed to keep playing after the second injury with certain medical precautions, a knee brace and the supervision of orthopedic surgeon Christopher Woodson of Los Alamitos.
“I couldn’t take two years off of football. Football is my structure,” said McConnell, who maintains a 4.2 grade-point average.
“(And) we had a really, really tight-knit group last year. … I needed to be the starter out there for those guys.”
The Griffins used senior Zack Wagoner as their running quarterback and let McConnell handle the passing duties. He threw for 1,880 yards and 23 touchdowns and earned first-team all-Sunset League honors …. on one knee.
“(You) just do it,” said McConnell, whose father, Sean, suffered a knee injury while playing quarterback at East Carolina. “I feel like I’m already half a physical therapist for as much as I’ve been.”
McConnell had surgery surgery shortly after the Griffins’ 2018 season ended with a 49-32 loss at Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks in the second round of the CIF-SS Division 2 playoffs in early November.
He was cleared to return in the spring and led Los Alamitos to the semifinals of the Orlando Scandrick passing tournament in May. The Griffins lost to La Habra but beat Calabasas twice.
McConnell will lead a multiple offense that also features running back Oscar Brown and wide receivers Noah Kelly and Shain Allen.
Linebacker Gio De Leon and safety John Newman, a standout in baseball, will also play on offense, which will be coordinated for the first time by Fenton’s son, TJ.
Los Alamitos’ loaded nonleague schedule features Torrey Pines (Aug. 23), Vista Murrieta (Aug. 30) and Long Beach Poly (Sept. 6). That’s all before Sunset League showdowns with Edison (Oct. 4) and Corona del Mar (Nov. 1) and the Division 3 playoffs.
McConnell also is practicing with touted freshman quarterback Malachi Nelson, who has been offered by Auburn.
“We’re helping each other out here,” McConnell said of Nelson. “We’re good friends already and there’s a good vibe.”
Ray Fenton’s offenses have been known to use more than one more quarterback. That could be the case again, but this much is certain: McConnell will make the most of any opportunity.
“I have a lot of brothers on this team,” said McConnell, whose brother Bo plays cornerback on the junior varsity. “I’m going to play like an animal — like I’m just happy to have a knee back. Whatever happens with it is kind of what happens. You can’t play scared. … We’re all really excited (for the season).”