The first time Bryce Paul's left knee gave out, he wasn't sure what had happened. The second time, he knew right away.
The winner of the 2020 Star Tribune All-Metro Courage in Competition award, Paul was a freshman point guard in his first varsity season for Concordia Academy when his knee buckled the first time — the result of a jump-stop on a fast break.
"I knew it was bad right away," he recalled. "I remember sitting on the bench, knowing it was going to be a long recovery. I didn't know exactly what it was, but I knew something was bad."
Anterior cruciate ligament, he was told, with a nine- to 12-month recovery to follow.
Athletics were Paul's life. His father, Marc, is an assistant coach for the boys' basketball team. Bryce is three-sport athlete, also excelling at football, where he's a linebacker/running back, and baseball, where he pitches and plays outfield.
Through sheer will, he turned those recovery months into about seven, returning in time for the next basketball season. He made it through unscathed, but it wouldn't last. While pitching that spring he fielded a sharp ground ball, turned to start a rundown and caught his foot on a lip of grass around the mound. His left knee popped once again.
"I knew exactly what it was," Paul said. "On the bench, the trainer said my knee felt fine, but I knew."
For a few brief moments, Paul contemplated not attempting a comeback. Memories of rehab agony were still fresh in his mind. "I was getting flashbacks, thinking about all the work I'd put in to come back the first time, knowing I'd have to go through all that again," he said.
But a few days spent longing for the field — and rejoining his teammates — put those thoughts out of his mind.
"Sitting all those times, watching my friends play, that motivated me back," he said. "I did it before. I knew I could do it again. I just had to attack it."
Making things worse was that he wasn't able to play football, his favorite sport, for two years. Last August he stepped on the practice field for the first time since his freshman year.
"I wasn't sure his parents would allow football to be a part of the conversation, just because of the contact," Beacons football coach Bob Wolf said. "I'd kind of written him off."
But Paul didn't. There was no way he was going to miss another football season, this time as a senior.
"Every time I stepped on the field, even in practice, I remember thinking, 'I'm so thankful to have this opportunity,' " Paul said.
His play on the field showed it. He rushed for 226 yards and made 23 tackles as a linebacker.
"Once I got back on the field, it wasn't even a worry of mine," Paul said.
Wolfe said with a laugh, "I can't say that for us."
"I was kind of back to my old self," Paul said.
The Beacons ended the season with a 7-2 record. The basketball team, with Paul running the point, won 20 games and was set to play in the Class 2A, Section 4 final when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. That put a different sort screeching halt on the season, ending Paul's high school sports career prematurely.
"It kind of felt like déjà vu," he said. "Every year, I've missed a partial season and a full season of sports. But I'm kind of used to it now. I feel like I'm able to bounce back from it."