MUNCIE, Ind.-Halfway through Ball State University's 2013 football season Trent Toothman could feel his surgically repaired knee start to worsen.
The redshirt sophomore backup linebacker-and former Salem High School standout quarterback-was one year removed from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but scar tissue buildup was was continuing to cause him pain and limit his range of motion.
The pain never subsided. Two weeks after Ball State's GoDaddy Bowl loss to Arkansas State, a doctor told him that he could either go through another major surgery or step away from football. Toothman decided to call it a career.
"Going into the bowl game I thought it might possibly be my last game," Toothman said. "The knee kept getting worse and worse and I had an appointment scheduled when we got back to campus where the doctor was going to make a decision."
Following his ACL surgery in the fall of 2012, Toothman had additional arthroscopic surgery before this season to clean out scar tissue, but a considerable amount still existed. The remaining scar tissue could only be cleaned out with more major surgery, which the doctor felt would do more harm than good.
"It would have been my third surgery in a year," Toothman said. "It was time for me to quit rather than go through another one."
Life without football has been an adjustment for Toothman. At present, he is going to classes and doing light workouts to strengthen his knee. In the fall he will begin working 15 hours a week in the athletic department, focusing on marketing (his major). Ball State will honor his athletic scholarship.
"I want to eventually go into marketing so working in the athletic department will be a nice opportunity for me to get some experience," Toothman said. "I'm looking forward to it."
In a cruel bit of irony, Toothman's knee took a turn for the worse on the afternoon he had the best game of his career. He earned a start at linebacker and recorded a career-high three solo tackles in Ball State's 48-27 win at Virginia on Oct. 5, but tweaked his knee in the fourth quarter and its condition steadily worsened from there.
"It was a grind to get through the season," Toothman said. "I was limping around campus pretty much all the time, the pain never really went away."
Toothman would arrive at practice 90 minutes early every day to go through a physical therapy regimen. Once a week, a team trainer would scrape away as much scar tissue as possible with a glass tool.
"The physical therapy would get rid of my limp for the time being and work some kinks out, but every night at the end of practice I would be hurting again," Toothman said. "For the rest of the year my playing time varied week-to-week depending on how I felt."
After a record-setting career as a quarterback at Salem, Toothman was redshirted during his freshman year at Ball State while transitioning full time to linebacker. He tore his ACL halfway through the 2012 season and was eager to get back and play a full season.
"I may have rushed a little bit to come back, but I felt confident and ready to go at the start of the season." Toothman said. "I don't think my knee ever fully recovered though. I never could get full range of motion back."
Looking back, Toothman says he has no regrets and loved his experience playing Division I football.
"Without question I would do it again." Toothman said. "Even though there was pain, I loved going out there and playing."