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High School Athlete Overcomes Labrum Injury to Play College Football

Wayna Crofton during a high school football game

September 27, 2022

When Wayna’ Crofton was hit by an offensive lineman, he immediately knew his shoulder was dislocated. What he didn’t know was the extent of the shoulder injury.

“I went to attack the offensive guard, and offensive tackle came and hit my shoulder from behind because I was extended,” Wayna’ recalls. He was a defensive end for Blue Valley North High School in Overland Park, Kansas, at the time, going up against Lee’s Summit North in Week 4 of the season. “I didn’t think anything was torn.”

Thankfully, Wayna’s arm popped back into place on its own. Dr. Ian Goodman, an orthopedic sports medicine fellow at The University of Kansas Health System at the time, was on the sidelines at the game and assessed Wayna’.

The early diagnosis? A labral tear.

The next step in the process was to send Wayna’ to the Saturday morning walk-in clinic at the health system’s Sports Medicine and Performance Center located at The University of Kansas Health System Indian Creek Campus at I-435 and Nall Avenue. Wayna’ went the next day and the diagnosis was confirmed: a labrum tear in his right shoulder.

Play through the pain?

Sometimes when a shoulder pops out of place, there’s more that can happen than just a tear of the labrum, which is the tissue that surrounds the shoulder’s socket to make it more stable. There are times when other ligaments that provide structure in the shoulder can be torn, or associated fractures can create instability.

"Luckily, Wayna’s injury didn’t have much structural damage outside of the labral tear. Still, the tear was big enough that it would need surgery to fully heal. Generally, we try to get players with labral tears through a rehab course and try to avoid surgery, if at all possible,” says Dr. Paul Schroeppel, MD, orthopedic surgeon at the Sports Medicine and Performance Center. However, Wayna’s case differed because he was a defensive lineman looking to go past high school and continue playing at the college level. Shoulder surgery would mean arthroscopically repairing the tear to reduce the risk of future issues.

“If it becomes a recurring problem when players have had 3, 4 or 5 instances where the shoulder has popped out, that's something you need to get taken care of immediately,” Dr. Schroeppel says, “or you'll have increasingly worse instability as time goes on.”

But Wayna’ had a choice. Since his labral tear wasn’t as severe, he could either get surgery right away, ending his senior season at Blue Valley North, or he could play through the pain and receive surgery after the end of the season.

“We were going up against one of our rivals the following week,” Wayna’ remembers. “I just wanted to play. It was my senior season. I had my mind set on what I wanted to do and what I want to accomplish with my teammates. I had nothing else in mind, really.”

Wayna’s decision was final: Finish the season, and trust in the health system’s care team to keep him on track.

Getting back into the game

Football player Wayna' Crofton turns to the pros when injury strikes.

Wayna' Crofton:
I remember the day vividly because it was something that kind of changed my life.

It was 2021, Lee's Summit versus Blue Valley North and a tackle that Wayna' Crofton will forever remember.

Wayna' Crofton:
I was going to attack the offensive guard, and an offensive tackle came and hit my shoulder from behind. I felt it dislocate.

Sports announcer's voice:
Player down for Blue Valley North as the trainers assess him.

Wayna' didn't realize in that moment, but the tackle did more than just dislocate his shoulder. Still, he continued to play for as long as he could.

Wayna' Crofton:
It was my senior season I didn't want to miss no games.

Blue Valley North athletic trainer Miles Wilcox was on the sideline watching

Myles Wilcox:
Probably with every snap, got a lot adrenaline going. He was feeling some type of pinch, pain, numbness, and he did. He'd come to the sideline.

Wayna's pain was actually from a torn shoulder muscle.

Wayna' Crofton:
So it was a labrum tear.

The labrum is a thick muscle attached to the shoulder socket that helps keep the ball joint in place. Wayna' would need surgery. Head team orthopedic surgeon for the Kansas City Chiefs Dr. Paul Schroeppel is also an ortho surgeon for the Sports Medicine and Performance Center at The University of Kansas Health System. He would do Wayna's repair.

Wayna' Crofton:
I had my eyes closed because it hurt so bad. And soon as I opened my eyes, he was the first person I saw.

Athletic trainer Myles Wilcox's voice:
I want 10 good reps.

Post-surgery was when Wayna's hard work to get back in the game began with his athletic trainer.

Athletic trainer Myles Wilcox:
He was in 3 to 4 days a week just trying to get that shoulder right. So he was really motivated to do what he had to do off the field so that he could stay on the field.

The hard work paid off. Fast forward months later, and Wayna' is making a return to the game with his new team, MidAmerica Nazarene University. Injury, however, is still a part of the game.

Wayna' Crofton:
After my shoulder stuff, I got cleared. During summer workouts, I was doing 60-yard sprints during summer workouts, and I pulled my hamstring.

And Dr. Schroeppel will repair that, too. Wayna' says football will always be a part of his life and future plans.

Wayna' Crofton:
I do got some stuff I want to accomplish later on in life. I do want to just find myself inside a good career. I just want to help with the community, really, give back to the community. Do little football camps.

Athletic trainer Myles Wilcox's voice:
Good job, Wayna'.

Braced for impact

The health system hooked Wayna’ up with a Sully® Shoulder Stabilizer brace. Given Wayna’s position as a defensive lineman, he didn’t have to raise his arms up as often as a receiver or defensive back would. That allowed the brace to do its job and keep Wayna’s shoulder stabilized throughout the season.

“Myles Wilcox, our athletic trainer assigned to Blue Valley North, watched Wayna’ pretty closely,” Dr. Schroeppel says. “He’d ask, ‘How's the shoulder feeling? Do you feel like it's slipping out of place?’ He followed him week to week to make sure there were no recurring problems and that he wasn’t having consistent pain or dysfunction.”

For Wayna’, it was a slow adjustment, but he learned to play through it after a couple games.

“The first 2 weeks after I tore it, it affected me a lot,” Wayna’ recalls. “I'm sure if you watched the tape, you could see I wasn't the same player. I was just caught up in my head. But once I got out of my head, I realized this brace was actually helping me a lot. So I just started going back to just playing ball. I didn't really think about the injury. I’d feel a little discomfort making a tackle. But after that I just picked back up where I left off.”

With the brace and the help of his athletic trainer, Wayna’ was able to make it to the playoffs and finish his senior season with his teammates.

Back to normal strength

Wayna’ was able to get his shoulder surgery scheduled the week after Blue Valley North’s final game. The surgery, performed by Dr. Schroeppel, was successful, and Wayna’ began to get his strength back in the following month.

“I didn't feel improvement instantly,” Wayna’ recalls. “But as I started to build up strength, I was like, ‘OK, this actually feels so much better now.’ It took about 3 months for me to get back to normal.”

Returning to his normal, pre-injury strength was important for Wayna’, not only for day-to-day life, but because his football career continues. Not at Blue Valley North, where he graduated in spring 2022, but at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, where he currently plays defensive end.

As a college football player, Wayna’ has decided to continue his care at the Sports Medicine and Performance Center thanks to the treatment he received in high school, and because Dr. Schroeppel is the Kansas City Chiefs’ head team orthopedic surgeon.

“There’s not too many people who can say they're standing face to face with the same doctor who treated Patrick Mahomes’ knee,” Wayna’ says. “There’s nothing else I can ask for, really, because they have the best of the best at what they do.”

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