BAYSHORE GARDENS -- Carter Crossman is back at IMG Academy this week for the 2013 USL Super Y-League North American Finals, a youth soccer tournament.
But the 16-year-old Michigan native didn't play in the 2012 event.
He spent the tourney encouraging his teammates from the bench.
That wasn't because he wasn't good enough to play.
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It was because Crossman suffered from a benign tumor in his right femur.
But Crossman made the trip to sunny Manatee County, anyway, and cheered on his Alliance Academy Black team out of Grand Rapids, Mich.
At that point, there was no certainty he would ever play again.
"The surgeon took us aside into a little room immediately following the bone-grafting surgery and shook his head," said Lori Crossman, Carter's mother. "He said, 'I am just not sure, because the cartilage was torn so bad from the bone tumor eating through it, that he's going to be able to play at the level that he was."
But Crossman went through physical therapy and was determined to return to the field.
Playing in his defender position, Crossman is getting back to full-match fitness -- he said he needs to continue improving his stamina -- and is ready to take on all comers.
That included stints com
peting against older players with the club.
Crossman said he originally thought the tumor was just a regular bump and bruise from playing the game.
But he knew it was a bit more than a normal knock when his knee gave out on him a couple times, including one instance where it was so bad that he couldn't get back up or stand on it.
"There was definitely the big thought of cancer," Crossman said. "They didn't tell me about it. They told me that it was just a growth, but I kind of figured it out in a day or two."
So an MRI was taken and the process to fix the ailment began.
Athletes deal with injuries of all sorts. But finding out there is a tumor in a knee is another dilemma altogether.
Undeterred, Crossman kept a positive frame of mind. After the revelation that the tumor was benign, Crossman had surgery in November 2012 to have it removed.
He was cleared to walk at the end of January.
So Crossman responded to that news by wanting to go to the gym to start the process of returning to the field.
"There was probably a good three-week stretch where I just didn't see any hope moving forward," Crossman said. "And I didn't think that I'd be able to get back playing, at least to the level that I am now. I'm so happy to be playing again."
But Crossman kept grinding, working with a physical therapist to improve his knee's range of motion from only bending it 90 degrees to now having full mobility.
To get back to the level he once was -- Lori said he's about 97.5 percent as fast as he used to be -- Crossman amped up things. He had speed and agility sessions in addition to regular training and moved from training four days a week to six days a week on average.
Now he's back, playing in this week's Super-Y League North American Finals in the boys 16-and-younger division.
And his side isn't going home early, having earned a semifinal berth after topping its group following Saturday's final day of pool play.
For Crossman, though, just playing at this level again is a victory considering where he was a year ago and how far he's worked to get back.