24 Jun 19
MONTEREY — The smile was back, the one that can light up a room. The joy of a sport that was taken from Covossay Windham has returned.
Windham was in his element working with kids Monday at the Johnson-Toney Football Camp at Monterey Peninsula College, a camp where it all started for Windham, a Hartnell College linebacker.
The excitement Windham showcased at the camp for roughly 300 kids replaced the uncertainty that hovered over him for the better part of 18 months.
“I have a deeper appreciation for the sport,” Windham said. “When something is taken from you and you have doubts about your future, it leaves you feeling lost.”
A devastating knee injury during Week 8 of his high school senior season in 2017 not only ended his high school career but cast doubt on his future in the sport.
Prior to the knee injury, the then 5-foot-11, 235-pound tailback had the attention of colleges, having rushed for nearly 4,000 yards in three seasons at Carmel.
That all changed on one play when Windham’s knee buckled as he high-stepped into the end zone against King City.
“I remember how much pain I felt,” Windham said. “I was in tears. I remember after surgery wondering if I would ever play again. The next decision was what was I going to do about it?”
Depression set in over the next year. Knowing he would miss the following season, Windham’s weight ballooned to 285 pounds.
“I couldn’t walk without aid for a couple of months,” Windham said. “I missed a month of school at Carmel. I was still in pain. I gained a lot of weight. Mentally I wasn’t in a good place.”
The confidence Windham had in his ability to play and dominate a sport that had always come so naturally was gone. He was out of shape and alone.
“A lot of times guys get discouraged with injuries,” Hartnell head football coach Matt Collins said. “As important as football was to him, ultimately he needed to get in school and pursue his education. Football provides a lot of structure for him.”
Collins helped convince Windham to get back in school and come back to a sport where he created so many highlight reels with his punishing style of running.
Patience, though, would be tested. While Windham still showed he had quick feet when hitting a hole, struggles to drop weight limited his stamina.
“It was bad,” said Windham, who rushed for 52 touchdowns in three years at Carmel. “Doubts creep into your mind. Will the knee hold up? Can I cut again? Do I belong out here? It was a process.”
Windham was on the Panthers’ practice squad last fall as a running back. Slowly he worked himself back into shape, reintroducing himself to the game.
“I needed to get my confidence back,” Windham said. “What I realized is how much fun the game is to me. I took it for granted. You don’t always miss something until it’s gone.”
The comeback was derailed when Windham suffered a foot injury a few weeks into practice, again creating concerns on whether he’d see the field again.
“He put on some weight,” Collins said. “There was uncertainty on what path he should go down. But Covossay realized he wanted to do this. He made the decision to commit.”
Windham got himself into shape, making enough of an impression last fall to earn a few carries. In his second game back, he produced his first touchdown in nearly two years.
The 20-year-old rushed for 138 yards on 28 carries, averaging nearly 5 yards each time he touched the ball. He also caught a 23-yard pass.
“I don’t remember my first carry other than I was nervous,” Windham recalled. “But I remember my first carry in my second game back. I scored a touchdown.”
Thoughts of Windham taking on a bigger role in the backfield this coming fall were altered in the spring when he and Collins agreed a move to the defensive side might be a better path.
While he still has the quickness to hit holes and has deceptive speed, Windham remains around 260 pounds as the season draws near.
“There aren’t running backs my size at the next level,” Windham said. “A lot of schools don’t even have fullbacks. I was going to get moved at some point at the next level. Why not start the transition now.”
Windham spent spring practice at linebacker for Hartnell, learning the schemes and what his role would be in the team’s defense.
“He’s not ready physically to be an every-down back,” Collins said. “But athletically, he’s strong enough to play the defensive side. He’s strong in the weight room. He understands football. He’s embraced it.”
Windham played linebacker sparingly in high school, in part because he carried the running game at Carmel for three years.
But he’s adapted to the change. In some respects, Windham feels the positions are similar in what they require.
“It (linebacker) is kind of like being a running back,” Windham said. “You have to know the gaps, anticipate. You have to find the ball. My uncle is a defensive coach. The biggest adjustment is watching film.”
Collins believes switching to linebacker will not only benefit Windham, but the Panthers as well as they attempt to rebuild a defense that lost its top two linebackers and tacklers to four-year programs.
“We’re trying to put him in the best position to achieve success,” Collins said. “The football mindset requires you to be committed to what you’re doing. That wasn’t always the case for him. He’s made the commitment.”
Rediscovering that passion was evident with the effort Windham showed in spring practice at Hartnell. And it’s on full display at the Johnson-Toney Football Camp.
Windham was running around with kids half his size, offering encouragement and knowledge along with a contagious smile.
“All these drills we do are the same drills you do in high school and college,” Windham said. “What this camp taught me was how to compete and how to have fun while competing.”
Windham wants to provide what was given to him when he was a camper and that’s some wisdom, a lot of energy and some memories.
“I met people at this camp from all over the county that I still consider friends,” Windham said. “I got coached up by my uncle Ralph (Ward). Now I’m working right next to him, doing what he did for us as kids.”