Call It A Comeback

April 12, 2023
By Evan Lepler

Injuries suck. 

But comebacks are awesome. 

Around the AUDL, a handful of big names were sidelined for, in many cases, the entire 2022 season. But after conquering surgery, rehab, and all the mental hurdles associated with a professional athlete returning to the highest level of competition, these individuals are now healthy, ready, and poised to make up for lost time. 

Can they rediscover their pre-injury form? Can they exceed it?

These are questions worth monitoring as the 2023 campaign gets underway in just two weeks and two days.

Here are seven players to watch who are looking to rebound after an injury-riddled 2022.

Listed alphabetically

Travis Carpenter, Indianapolis AlleyCats

Affectionately known as “The Kid” since breaking into the AUDL as an 18-year-old prospect back in the league’s inaugural season, Travis Carpenter actually turns 30 this Saturday. He played in 115 games between 2012 and 2021, but missed all of last year after tearing his ACL. In fact, he thinks the injury might have happened two years ago. 

“I was dealing with knee pains in 2021,” said Carpenter. “In hindsight, realize now that my ACL was almost surely partially torn at the time.”

But despite not playing at all in 2022, he still ranks 10th all-time on the AUDL assist chart and ninth all-time in blocks. Only three players—Cameron Brock, Goose Helton, and Andrew Meshnick—have played more points in the league than Carpenter, who fully expects to turn back the clock in the coming months.

“Two weeks ago, I played through my first super practice weekend at full strength and speed,” he said. “I felt like my old self again [...] I’m very excited to dial in the finer points over the next few weeks leading up to opening weekend. I honestly am expecting to be back to my 2019 self again this year.”

Tanner Halkyard, Boston Glory

One of the greatest revelations of the 2021 season, Tanner Halkyard was dearly missed by the Glory last year after he tore his ACL near the end of the ’21 campaign. Now, he’ll look to recapture the swagger that led to 34 goals, 31 assists, and 11 blocks during Boston’s first run in the league.

“I’m stoked to be back,” said Halkyard. “I’m feeling excellent. I had my final post-op strength test about a month ago, where I found out that my operated leg is now stronger than the good leg, which is exciting and promising. I’ve been training every day since January 1 at 5:30 AM and constantly am switching off between agility, strength, and mental trust training, hopping and jumping. Apparently, a lot of the post-op readiness is completely mental, so I expect to be able to overcome that completely by our first game. I’m feeling confident, my expectations are high, but I also need to ground them in reality and take things on a weekly basis.”

With Tannor Johnson absent from the 2023 Glory roster, Halkyard’s return takes an even greater importance. If Boston has any shot at knocking off New York and DC in the East, the 32-year-old Syracuse alum will need to return to being the kind of dynamic playmaker that produced six goals and five assists on the road at Carolina back in 2021.

Kai Marshall, Colorado Summit

In five years playing for Dallas, covering some of the league’s fiercest cutters, Kai Marshall averaged exactly one block per game. It’s even more astonishing when you recognize that more than 70 percent of his points came on the O-line, producing 98 goals and 68 assists in 55 career contests. But Marshall’s only played four games since the start of the pandemic and did not see any action last year after breaking his collarbone in the fall of 2021. 

With that said, he’s still only 29, remains one of the sport’s top athletes, and the Summit are very excited to have him.

“We had some great downfield defenders last year,” said Colorado Co-Head Coach Tim Kefalas, “but nobody who’s truly like a big, big downfield defender. Kai is a matchup for [Ben] Jagt-type characters. Genuine closing speed, 6-5 frame, an ability to get around people, so that’s very exciting.”

Few can forget Marshall’s stunning five-block performance against the San Diego Growlers at 2019 Championship Weekend. Those big game reps should fit in mighty nicely on the 2023 Summit.

Jonathan Mast, Pittsburgh Thunderbirds

One of the more underrated handlers in the league, Jonathan Mast ranks 10th in AUDL history in completions. Among those top 10 volume throwers, only former Madison Radical Andrew Brown has a higher career completion percentage than the 29-year-old Thunderbird who missed all of 2022 due to knee pain that wouldn’t go away.

“I’ve been battling some lingering knee issues from my ACL construction a few years ago and took off last year to potentially get another surgery, but ended up focusing on rehab instead,” said Mast. “We’ll see how it holds up through the season, but it’s been holding up well so far.”

Like Halkyard’s reemergence with Boston, the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds will likely rely on Mast’s experience and steadiness to be a calming presence on the offense. Externally, few are expecting the T-Birds to contend in 2023, but Mast is just fine with the doubters counting them out. 

“Everyone is saying Chicago, Madison, Minnesota, and Indy are going to be fighting it out but there’s no reason our name can’t be in there as well,” he said. “Coming in, the ranking are those four top teams, and then there’s us and Detroit somewhere below that. Love it. Love coming into the season with nothing to lose and grinding it out. The Madison season opener is bookmarked on all our calendars, and I think we’ll turn some heads.

“Either way, I’m stoked to get back on the field with the guys! It’s been too long.”

Connor Olson, Colorado Summit

Once again, Dallas’ loss is Colorado’s gain.

Connor Olson tore his ACL during a Legion preseason scrimmage last year, a devastating moment both for him and the team that was expecting him to assume an even greater role on the offense. Without him, Dallas nosedived to a 1-11 record after going 54-12 combined in the five previous regular seasons. But now the Oklahoma State product is taking his talents to the Rockies, where he expects to be fully healthy for another title contender. 

“I’m feeling 100 percent,” he said. “I’ve got some work to do when it comes to being as explosive, but everything else is all there. I expect to be out of the brace while playing soon enough as well. I’m super amped to get the opportunity to play this year, especially in a new system on a new team. It felt very strange having some time off [from] frisbee.”

Like Marshall, Olson shined under the bright lights of Championship Weekend, exploding for 14 goals and seven assists in four semis and finals games as a relatively unknown college kid back in 2018 and 2019. He still won’t even turn 25 until August, and the Summit are actively contemplating where he fits best in their 2023 plans.

“We’re just getting to know him as a player,” said Kefalas. “He definitely seems to be a very dynamic player. He’s got a really expansive throwing tool-kit. He’s pretty comfortable downfield and [in the] backfield, which is the type of player we love. So we haven’t quite settled on what his role will be, but just excited that it seems like he has a lot of flexibility with where he can slot in and definitely can open some things up with his throwing repertoire.”

Jakeem Polk, Atlanta Hustle

It’s been quite a journey for Jakeem Polk since he showed up to a Charlotte Express tryout as a complete and total unknown. This was back before the 2016 season, when he proceeded to max out the team’s vertical jump station, earn a roster spot, and play in every game as an exhilarating but raw rookie. Seven years and three teams later, he’s back healthy for the Hustle following a ruptured achilles that ended his 2022 season before it started.

“Things are going great,” said the 33-year-old Polk. “I’m back in my climate now. This has been a speedy recovery. I’m almost 100 percent, just need a little more strength back and I’ve been practicing and training to get ready for the season opener. For this season, I’m expecting to reach my next level of play. Did a lot of film watching last year [during] the down time and focused on improving my offense. Hustle been grinding and can’t wait to step back on the field.”

For the second time in his career, Polk will be playing under Head Coach Tuba Benson-Jaja, who assumes the leadership post in Atlanta after previously leading the Cannons. After watching him at several recent practices, Benson-Jaja raved about Polk’s recovery.

“If you came out and saw Jakeem right now, you would never know he was injured,” said Benson-Jaja. “He was cleared at nine months instead of the usual 14 to get back on the field [...] He’s averaging probably about four blocks a [practice] weekend. He looks great. I’m impressed because I remember coming off an ACL injury and being very hesitant, and he’s out there running as if he had no injury at all.”

Will Selfridge, Salt Lake Shred

The only member on this list that actually saw the field in 2022, Will Selfridge was an unstoppable 18-year-old goal-scoring wunderkind for the Salt Lake Shred for three games before an ACL injury halted the teenager’s breakout performance. But now he’s back and better than ever, looking to build upon his brief but memorable 13-goal, two-assist outburst. 

“Buckle up is all I gotta say,” said Shred Head Coach Bryce Merrill. “That kid is unreal. I’m sure as coaches, we’re prone to hyperbole and thinking that our up-and-coming guy is the up-and-coming guy, but I can tell you, Will Selfridge is the up-and-coming guy.”

For those who may not remember exactly what the USA U-20 National Team member did before his injury, Merrill is here to remind everyone about Selfridge’s wide array of abilities.

“Will’s change of direction speed looks like he didn’t even have ACL surgery,” said Merrill. “He’s been full playing now for almost two months, and he’s just elite in disc skills, red zone; the kid is very, very special.”