BROKEN ARROW — Gyasi Akem can easily recall the “freak play” that ended his sophomore season before it even began.
The Broken Arrow linebacker was going in for a tackle in a preseason scrimmage when his leg swung into the air.
Then, the side of his knee hit another player's helmet.
“I got up and I felt a pop,” he said, “but I didn't know what it was until the next day. I didn't really feel any pain, because I had so much adrenaline. But I knew something was wrong because knees aren't supposed to pop like that.”
The result was a torn anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that requires surgery and at least six months of rehab.
But Akem not only fully recovered from the blow. He rapidly morphed into one of the state's premier players and an OSU commitment, coming in at No. 5 on The Oklahoman's Super 30 recruit rankings for 2014.
Broken Arrow coach Steve Spavital called the injury “devastating,” because Akem was slated to start that season. Akem was certainly bummed, too. But he made an effort not just to rehab himself, but to stay engaged with his team.
“A lot of kids will have an injury to the extent that he had, and you never see them,” Spavital said. “They're in the training room. They go home early. (Akem) never did that. He was always around the kids every day. He never missed a day. He's on crutches, but he's there the first day. He's up there at 7 a.m. with all the other kids.
“So that shows a lot about him, and that's what's important. He worked so hard at getting back, and it just made him better at what he does and more respected by the kids and the coaches.”
Akem was back on the field as a junior last season, with the only visible evidence of his injury being a clunky and scratchy knee brace. And after he tallied 58 tackles and five sacks, recruiting calls from college coaches started flooding in “out of nowhere.”
What makes Akem an attractive college prospect is his versatility. At 6-1 and 215 pounds, he's big and strong enough to play inside. Despite that size, he's got the speed and athleticism to play in space against spread offenses. He's even an option on offense as a hybrid tight end/inside receiver.
“He could play a lot of positions. That's what makes him so valuable,” Spavital said. “Is he the best linebacker in the state? Well, you don't know. But he's probably the most versatile.”
Akem first met OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, who is also the team's linebackers coach, at a camp as a freshman. A scholarship offer came at one of the Cowboys' Junior Days. He then committed at OSU's spring finale.
So Akem heads into his final high school season feeling healthy and stronger than ever. He is working to improve his tackling technique and hopes to perhaps even lead the team in that category.
He also won't need to wear the knee brace anymore. Still, that injury and recovery experience hasn't left him.
It's made him more thankful for the opportunity to play football again — and to snag a college scholarship.
“It taught me not to take anything for granted,” Akem said. “Every moment you get to be in, give your heart, give full out and don't stop until the whistle blows.”
Super 30: No. 5
School: Broken Arrow
Committed to: Oklahoma State (April 20)