WEST ANDOVER — There were days that Shamil Diaz wondered if his football dream was at an end.
Those doubts began when he suffered a life-threatening case of appendicitis that required two surgeries, the second to remove 10 inches of his small intestine, and cost him his freshman season.
Then, the following summer, he suffered a badly broken ankle in 7-on-7 that required two more surgeries. His sophomore season was done before it ever started.
While his body betrayed him, however, his resolve remained fierce.
“I thought about never being able to play again,” said the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Diaz. “That was so scary to me. Knowing I had played football for so long and it could be over in no time was awful. But I was very determined. I had to get back onto the field. I was going to get back and play for the Reggies.”
Diaz has not just returned, the senior has emerged as a star for Greater Lawrence (3-2) this fall.
In his first season as starting quarterback — after playing receiver and running back last year — Diaz leads The Eagle-Tribune area with a whopping 761 yards rushing — 109 yards more than No. 2 on the list — and six touchdowns on 88 carries (8.6 yards per rush). He has also thrown for 435 yards and five more scores.
“He has fought through so much, stayed with the team and learned about teamwork, selflessness and humility,” said Reggies head coach Tony Sarkis. “Through hard work he earned the quarterback spot. He has shown what determination, hard work and never giving up can achieve.”
ILLNESS AND SURGERY
A football player since he was 5-years-old, Diaz entered his freshman campaign at Greater Lawrence full of excitement. But the lifelong Lawrence resident’s season, and life, would soon be derailed.
“I was at my uncle’s house watching football, and felt a really bad pain in my stomach,” he said. “I knew I had to go to the hospital. We went to the emergency room, and the doctors said I was minutes away from my appendix exploding. I needed surgery.”
Following surgery, a two-week hospital stay, and three more weeks of recovery, Diaz was cleared to play football. Days later, he threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more in a freshman game. But his ordeal was far from complete.
“A few days after that I felt another very bad pain,” he remembered. “Doctors told me I had developed a hernia that was stopping blood flow. It was related to the appendicitis, and I needed to have 10 inches of small intestine removed.
“I was devastated. It was painful, and I wasn’t able to play football. But I wasn’t going to let it stop me.”
BROKEN ANKLE, MORE SURGERY
Once healthy, Diaz set to work preparing for his sophomore football season. But, during a summer 7-on-7 tournament, he was dealt another crushing blow.
“I was playing safety, and a receiver on the other team jumped to catch a ball,” he said. “I jumped with him. When he came down, I landed on my toe, my ankle twisted, and the guy landed on top of me. The pain was unbelievable.”
Diaz had suffered a broken left ankle. He would need two more surgeries, with a plate and five screws holding his ankle together.
“It was very tough,” he said. “The recovery, the physical therapy, losing all the muscle in my left leg and ankle, the crutches, I wasn’t used to that at all. But I had to get back onto the field. As soon as the doctors cleared me, I was in the weight room working my butt off.”
RETURN, THEN STARDOM
Finally healthy, Diaz began to make his mark last fall as a receiver/running back. He earned All-Commonwealth Conference honors, catching 15 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 490 yards and nine scores. He also made one start at QB in place of then-senior Jose Caceres, throwing for 39 yards and rushing for 169 yards.
“That start helped me in a lot of ways,” he said. “Knowing that I was able to be a starting varsity QB made me less nervous for this year. It showed the coaches they could trust and be confident in me. I wasn’t just a slot receiver. I could be a QB too.”
Diaz wasted no time further proving that this fall. In the Reggies’ season-opener, he ran for 259 yards and two touchdowns on just 18 carries. He then threw three touchdowns in a win over Northeast.
“I was so nervous for the first game,” he said. “I didn’t want to let my teammates and coaches down. But, from the first snap, I knew I could do it. My confidence has only grown since. I love to run the football. It’s such an adrenalin rush, having people try to tackle me. I love it. And I’m working hard on passing.”
With just two games left before the postseason, starting on Saturday when the Reggies host Greater Lowell, Diaz is hoping to lead his team on a run.
“We’re playing well, but we’re not done yet,” he said. “I feel like we can accomplish a lot more. The season is far from over. We want to win the rest of our games, move into the playoffs, and keep winning.”
Under the knife
Greater Lawrence QB Shamil Diaz endured four serious surgeries that cost him his freshman and sophomore football seasons.
— Fall 2016: Emergency appendectomy. Appendix moments from bursting.
— Fall 2016: Emergency hernia surgery, removal of 10 inches of small intestine
— Summer 2017: Surgery to repair broken left ankle suffered during 7-on-7 tourney
— Fall 2017: Second surgery on broken left ankle
Contact David Willis at @DWillisET or DWillis@eagletribune.com.