DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Billy Brock thought his final season of high school wrestling had ended on a football field in Belfast.
That’s where the Foxcroft Academy senior suffered a broken fibula and dislocated ankle that required surgery, ending his football career as a running back and linebacker with the Ponies and leaving little hope that he would be able to defend the Class B individual 182-pound state wrestling championship he captured last February.
“They told me wrestling probably wasn’t an option,” he said.
But a little more than three months later, Brock not only has returned to the mat but is winning tournaments with an eye toward the postseason that begins with the Penobscot Valley Conference championships that Foxcroft will host on Feb. 4.
“I think it’s a miracle,” he said.
Brock’s return to the wrestling lineup also has given the Ponies renewed hope that they will be among the leading contenders to regain the conference, regional and Class B state championships that Foxcroft won in 2016.
“It’s brought a lot of energy to the team,” said Foxcroft coach Luis Ayala, “because Billy’s a team captain, and he’s worked so hard, he pushes other kids to work hard.
“It’s given us a big boost, and now we’re excited about where we’re headed coming toward the end of the year,” he said.
Foxcroft has been a perennial contender under Ayala’s guidance, but with the graduation of four individual state champions and lacking Brock’s presence, this wasn’t shaping up to be a championship season for the Ponies.
“Early on we weren’t where we wanted to be,” Ayala said. “Teams that usually don’t beat us were beating us, and you could see that excitement with the other teams.”
But led by the likes of returning veterans R.J. Nelson, Brandon Weston and Dustin Simmons, transfers Matt Storer, Elijah Ames and Marcus Caudill, and other newcomers such as freshman Rico Ayala, Foxcroft showed signs of gradual improvement in some of the major midseason meets despite a knee injury that has sidelined senior Connor Johnson and the continued expectation that Brock would be unable to return.
“Early on Billy was down, thinking, ‘Here goes my whole senior season,’” said coach Luis Ayala. “But his family was really positive with him, and he started coming to tournaments with us and seeing what the competition was in his weight class 195 [pounds].
“All of a sudden he says, ‘If I can come back, I can beat those guys,’” Ayala said.
Brock sped up his timetable for a comeback not only by undergoing physical therapy but also maintaining a weight-training regimen and doing additional exercises in a swimming pool.
“Probably right after Christmas I thought I might be able to come back,” he said. “I took my brace off and started walking around, bouncing and telling myself I was going to be able to wrestle. Then I started jogging and running and going to wrestling practice.”
Brock gained his doctor’s clearance to resume wrestling about two weeks ago, much to his coach’s surprise.
“Billy continued to progress and all of a sudden he comes in one day with a note and said, ‘The doctor’s cleared me,’” Ayala said. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ and then I’m calling his dad and he said, ‘Yes, they told him it’s now stronger than the other ankle.’”
Brock’s reconstructed leg and ankle — bolstered by a titanium plate and 10 screws — responded so well to his initial comeback efforts that he wrestled his first matches of the season when Foxcroft hosted a multi-team meet on Jan. 14.
Brock, competing this year at 195 pounds, won all three of his bouts.
“I was excited after that meet, just ready to keep wrestling and get better and go win,” said Brock. “I definitely had some trouble breathing, I was out of shape, but I had been lifting the whole time I was down, so muscular-wise I was all right. But I had to work on my lungs.”
Brock was back at it last Saturday during a 20-school meet at Ellsworth and posted three more victories, all by pin, in a combined 5 minutes, 40 seconds.
Brock was one of seven Foxcroft wrestlers to score top-three finishes in their weight classes as the Ponies totaled 140 points to top Bucksport (134), Ellsworth (119) and Dexter (105) in the team competition.
Nelson (132 pounds) also won his weight class, and Rico Ayala (106), Ames (170) and Storer (285) each finished second. Weston (113) and Simmons (145) each placed third.
“We’ve got a target on our back as state champions last year, but that was last year,” said coach Luis Ayala. “Earlier in the season we said to ourselves, ‘He’re where we are, do we want to stay here or push ourselves to get better?’ The kids have been buying into what we’re doing and hopefully coming into the end of the year we’ll come through.
“They’re battled-tested now, they’ve got confidence,” he added. “It’s great seeing the kids come around.”
The example of a team leader determined to make a full comeback hasn’t hurt, either.
“I hope my teammates look up to me whenever they start to hurt,” said Brock, “that whenever they have something they’ll push through it and continue to drive and not want to take practice off just because they have a little bruise.”