By Alan Babbitt
Kimani Dooley's steps toward the kickoff of fall Hope College football practice have been 19 tasking months in the making.
Teammate Mike Miklusicak's journey back to the field lasted nearly 12 challenging months.
The two determined seniors are as thrilled as anyone to return to action at Ray & Sue Smith Stadium with their teammates for today's first practice. Knee injuries sidelined both during the 2017 run to an 8-2 record — the ninth eight-win season in Hope College history.
"It means a lot to me," said Dooley, a defensive back from Detroit, Michigan (Clarenceville HS). "I'm very excited to get on the field after a long year and seven months. I'm excited to get back on the field with my team and try to do something special."
Added Miklusicak, a running back from Wayland, Michigan (Wayland), "I'm beyond excited, definitely, after a long year off. The excitement has been building, knowing we've had 7-3 and 8-2 records the past two seasons. We're going to keep trying to build the culture and hopefully go get a conference championship. We're going to take it one play at a time, one step at a time."
The season opener for head coach Peter Stuursma's Flying Dutchmen is August 31 at Smith Stadium against Millikin (Illinois).
The annual Community Day festivities include a picnic and a 5 p.m. men's soccer debut for new head coach Dave Brandt at Van Andel Soccer Stadium. The football game follows at 7 p.m. Click here for ticket information and more details.
Dooley, pictured at left, got hurt during the 2016 regular-season finale against Albion. He received All-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association coaches first-team honors that season. He finished with 34 tackles, three pass breakups, and one interception. He had 11 pass breakups as a sophomore.
Miklusicak, pictured at right, was sidelined after being injured during a 2017 intrasquad scrimmage. He claimed All-MIAA second-team recognition in 2016 while rushing for 1,081 yards and 10 touchdowns. He and Brandan Campbell were Hope's first two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.
Both Dooley and Miklusicak pondered giving up football and moving on to their next chapters in their lives. The feelings were fleeting.
"I honestly thought about not playing again. The knee injury was so severe," Dooley said. "But talking to my coaches and my teammates, and having (Hope College athletic trainer Tim Koberna) help me rehab, drove me to get back to 100 percent. Getting to be able to play again, getting to be around my teammates, and be in a football environment with Coach Stuursma, was worth it."
"I was not planning on coming back," Miklusicak said. "The more I sat around, I felt like, in 20 years, I'm not going to look back and be happy that I didn't play. I thought I'm going to be disappointed in myself."
The decisions to return made, hours upon hours of rehabilitation followed for both. The process began with simply bending the injured leg over and over again to start building strength. As flexibility improved, Dooley and Miklusicak expanded their respective efforts and worked with head athletic trainer Tim Koberna.
Dooley was cleared to practice in December; Miklusicak, in July.
Both are looking forward to getting up to football speed, especially for what's demanded on game day.
"I've been lifting a lot. That's the easy part," Dooley said. "Getting on the field is different. You've got to bring it and be physical. It's different from the weight room. I should be a big part of this defense. Hopefully, I'll get thrown at this year. I want to come in, make big plays and help us win."
Miklusicak is eager to deliver on the other side of the ball for the Flying Dutchmen. He wants to rack up yards and touchdowns — whatever is asked of him.
He will attempt to do his part with some of the patience he developed while returning from injury.
"Over the past two years, there were a lot of big plays we missed just by being a little impatient," Miklusicak said. "When I was standing on the sidelines last year, I listened to what play was being called and thinking more about why it was called. I know on some calls I have to it slow and let the play develop. I'm not a patient person. This season will tell how patient I am."