LAWRENCE — Jose Matos walked into the Lawrence High weight room last January and almost felt like a stranger.
He was so far behind his teammates after missing his junior football season, even he questioned if there was a future for him on the gridiron.
“It terrified me,” said Matos. “Right there, I felt like the sixth man on a five-man line, the guy standing on the sideline when the game was going on. And I didn’t like the way it felt. I just knew that wasn’t the way I would spend my senior football season.”
Matos would soon get healthy and make it all the way back. He had no idea just how long a trip it was.
Just seven days old when it happened, Matos had no idea the extent of the damage that was done to his left shoulder.
“I was born in the Dominican Republic and while I was still at the hospital, the nurse dropped me on my shoulder, cracking the bone,” said Matos, whose Lancers (0-3) host Tewksbury (3-0) here at Veterans Stadium tomorrow night. “It healed the wrong way in the joint. It was something I lived with and for a while I didn’t even know what it was.”
As he grew, the shoulder joint became more of an issue.
“I couldn’t do pushups, and I couldn’t shoot layups in basketball,” he said. “I couldn’t even do jumping jacks correctly.”
Doctors looked at the twisted joint, which prevented him from lifting his left hand above his head, and decided he needed to finish growing before fixing it.
By ninth grade, Matos had fallen in love with football. Denied the chance to play JV ball, he sucked up the pain and started at center for the Lancer freshmen.
“Nothing was going to stop me, I mean this was high school,” he said.
And despite being unable to lift weights or even make all his blocks, he made second-team varsity as a sophomore.
The future was bright. But the bill on Matos’ shoulder came due. Doctors told him last September it was time to correct the shoulder. The good news was that he would be better than ever. It would cost him the season, though.
“I didn’t want to play last year at 50 percent and this year at 50 percent,” said Matos, who decided to go to Children’s Hospital and have it done.
Doctors re-broke the cracked bone and reshaped the joint to be more natural. The surgery was a success, but it hurt ... a lot.
“The two worst months of my life,” said Matos. “But I had football again, and that helped to get me through it.”
Nobody attacked the offseason harder. He lived in the weight room.
“I had a year off, while everyone else was working and I had to do something about it,” said Matos, who is now about 6-feet and 205 pounds. “I definitely wasn’t a starter.”
In fact, wasn’t even in the 40-player preseason preview.
“When we got our pads, I had to prove all over again to the coaches that I could play,” said Matos.
It didn’t take long.
“It’s tough taking seniors back when they’ve been off,” said Lancer coach Mike Yameen. “He’s a good athlete, and we gave him a shot. I expected him to be a backup, but by the first scrimmage, we knew he’d be starting on our line.”
It was the perfect start to what could be a promising future for Matos, who is a star off the field as well.
The vice president of the National Honor Society, he’s ranked No. 1 in his class at the Health and Human Services School at Lawrence. He scored an 1,830 on the SATs — he’ll try to improve on that Saturday — and wants to study engineering and continue to play football.
“I’m definitely looking to keep playing ball,” said Matos. “I know I’m a little on the small side, but that didn’t stop me here.”
And neither did that shoulder injury from so many years ago. After clearing hurdles like that, Matos is most certainly on his way.
DID YOU KNOW?
Looking for a new challenge, football player Jose Matos picked up a tennis racket for the first time as a sophomore. Last spring, he competed in third singles and first doubles for a Lawrence High team that made the postseason for the first time in at least 25 years.
The Lancers went 7-8 overall, coming off a 1-win season in 2012.
“Next year, we’re going after the MVC (small title),” said Matos, who gave away one hint about his game. “Watch out for my crosscourt forehand. It’s nasty.”