Three-time All American middle blocker Coley Kyman had just led his Cal State Northridge volleyball team to the NCAA Finals for the first time in school history back in the Spring of 1993. In the Fall of that same year, Kyman, a fifth-year senior and a two-sport athlete, was the starting quarterback for the football team. He remembers vividly every detail of the last pass he threw in college football because for all practical purposes, what happened on that play ended both his football and volleyball careers.
It was September 4th, 1993. Northridge had just made the jump to Division I and they played their season opener against San Diego State. Jack Murphy Stadium was filled with 45,000 fans and SDSU’s star running back, Marshall Faulk, who would go on to a long NFL career with the Colts and Rams, was expected to post big rushing numbers in his junior season. Faulk would go on to be a Heisman candidate for his performance that year.
Northridge held its own against the Aztecs through the fourth quarter when Kyman’s offense took the field and started driving. One touchdown away from taking the lead, Northridge marched to San Diego State’s 40-yard line. Kyman dropped back, rolled to his left and threw a pass to his receiver but was immediately clobbered by four members of the Aztec defensive line. He knew immediately that something had happened to his right ankle, but at first he had no idea how severe it was.
“I honestly thought I just sprained it, like oh, someone jabbed me there,” said Kyman. “So I got on my knees to get up and I looked down and my foot was facing the opposite way. And from that point forward, the pain set in.”
Nearly 20 years later, Kyman is still in pain. The injury he suffered included a shattered fibula and a dislocated ankle. He also tore every tendon in the joint except the Achilles. Doctors inserted a steel plate and ten screws to hold his bone together, but the ankle was never the same. Kyman just underwent his sixth surgery ten weeks ago but he still walks with a limp as he has on and off since ’94. Kyman does not believe that the injury he sustained would have been even remotely as severe had he not been wearing ankle braces. He says that because the ankle was restricted by the brace’s hinge, it dislocated unnaturally around the brace.
“The fact of the matter is my orthopedic surgeon, the doctor that did the second surgery later and the team doctor all said I would have never come close to doing anything like I did had I not worn the ankle brace,” he said. “I would have just broken my leg at best, been in a cast and been fine.”
Kyman did return to the volleyball court about nine months later. He played with the national team for a time, played professionally in Finland and played a few pro beach tournaments with Matt Prosser, Bob Samuelson and Mark Presho among others. But he had lost a step that he was never able to regain.
“I wasn't as dynamic,” Kyman said. “My game was quickness and speed. Getting up fast, hitting balls by people, being able to utilize that and I just didn't have that same oomph to my setup. I could never run as fast in the 40, I could never jump as high, all of that stuff. I still played and I was pretty good but I wasn't the same.”
Kyman played seriously for about two years after the injury, but it became very clear to him that continuing at the elite level was not in the cards.
“I wanted to play in the Olympics. That was a dream of mine, that was something that I really, truly wanted to do,” Kyman said. “I also wanted to play in the NFL. I’m not saying I would've even come close to making it, but you never know. I would have at least liked to give it a chance so I could've known one way or the other. So those were my two dreams and I never got to reach them.”
These days, Kyman is married with two kids and working in sales. He managed to play in occasional sand and indoor tournaments over the years and also coached eventual Olympic silver medalist beach players April Ross and Jen Kessy for a time. He made a great life for himself and his family and after years of disappointment, he has made peace with how his career ended.
His oldest son is becoming a very good basketball player and Kyman says he is constantly told that he should be wearing ankle braces. He won’t let him. Kyman never wore ankle braces again after his injury and believes that wearing them constantly makes an athlete dependent on them. Plus, there’s the chance that wearing them might actually make the injury more severe as it did in his case and in a recent case in Texas in which a woman is suing because she believes the same thing happened to her.
Kyman did phone the ankle brace company after his injury to let them know what happened and he says they were sympathetic and sent him some free products. Though he estimates that he has spent upwards of $25,000 out of his own pocket for rehabilitation over the last two decades, he never pursued any legal action in his case.
The injury has hampered his ability to remain active, but Kyman says he can still play the occasional game of volleyball or basketball as long as he takes about three days afterwards to ice and to recover. He has just two options going forward – fuse the ankle or have it replaced. But neither of those options sound good to him because he says the technology isn’t yet as good as it is for hip or knee replacements.
He still sometimes wonders what his career might have looked like had things been different. Back in 1993, his injury halted the game for about 15 minutes while trainers immobilized Kyman’s ankle and got him off of the field and into the ambulance so he could undergo emergency surgery. His Matadors ended up losing the game 34-17. But for Kyman that wasn’t the worst of it.
“The pass was incomplete. That was the worst part of it all,” Kyman said. “I overthrew my receiver. I totally remember seeing the pass go by and I got hit and that was it. It was devastating. And that was it was my last pass in college football. It's sad because it changed my life. It is what it is. If the injury hadn’t happened, I would have never met my wife Michelle. I'm happy. But it's a bummer to know that I didn't get a chance because of an injury like that.”