Dacy on the rebound for Creighton
Byron Dacy's comeback was never a question of if, but when.
The answer came Sept. 19, as Creighton coach Bob Warming started the junior for the first time in over a year -- a year and one day to be exact -- in a 1-0 win over Stanford.
Given the role Dacy had been playing for the Bluejays off the bench, it was more of a symbolic return than anything else. Anyone who'd seen No. 12 Creighton play this season likely knew the forward was back in full form. And no one expected any less.
Dacy was named to the Hermann Trophy watch list for the third straight year and was a second-team preseason All-American pick by College Soccer News, even as he was coming off a redshirt year.
He punctuated his return in a nine-shot outing against Missouri-Kansas City, impressing not just his coaches and teammates but also the opposition.
"I give credit to their forward, No. 17," Kangaroos goalkeeper Ken Cooper said of Dacy's performance. "He came off the bench, and he gave our defense a really challenging workout. I really applaud him for that."
Warming marveled at Dacy's play, as well: "There's a lot of teams that don't end up with nine shots in a game, and in a little over a half, he ended up with nine shots himself."
That isn't the only reason the redshirt junior is drawing praise from his coach. What really has Warming impressed is the way Dacy has rebounded from the injury that ended his season -- in essence, even before it began -- last year.
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In a preseason game against Ohio State in 2007, Dacy went down. It was a no-contact injury. Dacy immediately knew something wasn't right.
Two days later, an MRI showed he had a torn ACL. However, with his other ligaments still intact and no major cartilage damage, doctors told Dacy it was technically possible to put off surgery and try to play. So he did.
However, following Creighton's game against Loyola Marymount -- a game in which Dacy scored the winning goal -- it became apparent that the best thing to do would be to go ahead with the ACL repair and sit out the season.
"I was maybe 75 percent," Dacy said. "I was still very wary of my knee; a little tentative going in to tackle and doing things like I normally do. I knew I couldn't do that for a whole season. Playing that way, I wouldn't have been a help to my team."
Having started the season on the Hermann Trophy watch list, Dacy found himself spending most of it on the sidelines. He didn't let that stop him from contributing.
"With him on the sideline and him actually having had experience on the field, you could talk to him," teammate Jeff Thayer said. "He'd tell you what to do, and you'd understand."
Dacy said the injury forced him to find other ways to lead his team, lessons he has incorporated now that he's back on the field.
"Sitting on the sidelines, the only thing I could do was be loud and encourage my teammates," Dacy said. "Now, I think I can really help bring the team up a lot by being vocal and enthusiastic like I was last year. I think I've kind of come into my game a little more this year. I'm a lot more emotional when I'm on the field."
He also feels he's in better shape. During the rehab process, Dacy's doctor told him the best thing he could do was to work on his strength, so Dacy concentrated on that, since he was certain his ball-handling skills would come back when he was ready to return.
The recovery was more than just physical.
"I've seen guys who have an ACL injury, and they quit," Warming said. "Some guys just don't return to the sport. And some people come back, but they're not mentally back. Always in the back of their mind, the most important thing is, 'Oh gosh, don't get injured again.'"
Dacy had to push those worries out of his mind.
"For the majority of the summer, I didn't want to go in for any tackles or really use my left leg to cut," he said. "But I felt really strong toward the end of the summer and just started getting back to normal. Once I got back [to school] and started training, I didn't think about it."
All he thought about was returning.
"When he first had the injury, you could kind of see every time we were playing, he wanted to be out there," Thayer said. "As it progressed and got further into it, you could see he was getting more excited, more into the games. It was kind of nice to see him finally get back on the field this year."
The Bluejays aren't just happy to have him back because he's a great guy. Dacy led the team in scoring his first two seasons. Even after seeing limited minutes off the bench, he has made an impact this year with one goal and one assist. And he's as aggressive as ever. Dacy's 23 shots this season are eight more than any other player on the team.
"It just shows his passion to want to win," Warming said. "Some players in a game when it's tight are afraid to shoot. They don't want to be the one who makes a mistake, and Byron is the one who is willing to risk himself, to put himself out there, as the guy who will take the chances for his team. If he misses, he misses, but he's going to get another chance for his team. Hopefully, eventually, he'll win the game for his team."
There's very little doubt Dacy will do just that for Creighton, maybe sooner rather than later.
"He's really on his way back much quicker than I thought he would be," Warming said. "I thought we would see Byron be effective sometime [in] mid- to late October. But he decided he can be effective now."
While his coach is pleased with his performance, Dacy isn't there yet.
"I'm not 100 percent, but I'm very, very close, the closest I've been this year," he said. "It's really good for me, in terms of coming back, but I still could be a lot better."
Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at email@example.com.