Andrew Isaacs didn’t know how many people were listening to his radio show one Friday afternoon last month, but it couldn’t have been many. He wondered. Fifty? One hundred? He just wanted to touch at least one life, so he prepared to deliver his most important message of the summer as an intern with WBGR Sports Network, an online radio station based in Lanham. He scoured the notes on his laptop, took a deep breath and began to speak through the airwaves about second chances.
He used the recent reinstatement of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon to the NFL following several failed drug/alcohol tests as the primary conduit for his message, later adding that Gordon’s quarterback, Robert Griffin III, will get a second chance of his own after a protracted divorce with the Washington Redskins.
But Isaacs could also hold himself up as a shining example. When the Maryland football team opens training camp on Monday, the redshirt junior tight end will try to reclaim all that has been lost since September 2014, when he suffered a catastrophic leg injury in a game against Syracuse. He hasn’t played since.
“I’m a guy that believes in second chances. I’m a guy that has dealt with injuries,” Isaacs said during his show, “4th and Inches.” “Just a message to all of those that are listening out there: Just understand when you make a mistake, it’s not the end-all be-all.”
Something didn’t feel right from the moment he stepped into the Carrier Dome for the game nearly two years ago, but Isaacs tried not to view it as an omen. In the third quarter, Maryland ran an option play to the left. Isaacs blocked a safety but stopped when he thought the play was over. Before he turned around, Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown was tackled into Isaacs’s legs. His left knee buckled.
“When I looked and saw my leg, that’s when I started screaming,” he said. “The bone was sticking out, but it was in the skin.”
Between screams, Isaacs apologized profusely to his teammates and coaches. He had won the starting job in fall camp just a few weeks earlier for being in the best shape of his life and showing versatility as a receiver and blocker.
Isaacs flew home with the team that night, his knee wrapped heavily, and wondered when he would play again. He had torn his anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, in addition to suffering a dislocation.
He wouldn’t have surgery until a month later — doctors didn’t want to ruin the range of motion in the knee by operating too early. While he waited, Isaacs could do very little physical activity.
“I just laid in bed. A lot,” he said. “It was frustrating. I knew how much I had worked getting ready for that season.
As the days wore on, Isaacs staved off depression with the support of family and friends and by taking up a new hobby: cooking. The broadcast journalism major started a social media series called “Cooking with Drew,” which instantly became a hit within Maryland’s locker room.
It was a transformative period in Isaacs’s life, and at one point he thought about not going through with his rehabilitation in an effort to play again. But he was reminded by a trainer that many people who have suffered similar knee injuries lost the ability to walk, or worse. And so Isaacs decided he wasn’t ready to quit because he knew how quickly things could be taken away.
He remembered the Sunday afternoon in 2001 when his mother, Deborah Isaacs, died unexpectedly from a heart attack at 39. Isaacs was 6. He moved from Connecticut to the Dorchester area of Boston with his father, Hosteene Isaacs, a native of Jamaica and a home improvement contractor who struggled raising Andrew.
Tragedy struck again on another Sunday afternoon in June 2007, almost six years to the day that Deborah Isaacs died. Hosteene Isaacs was also 39 years old when he was shot during a home invasion. Andrew Isaacs said he watched as his father was wheeled out by paramedics. Hosteene died at Boston Medical Center.
Isaacs was moved back to Manchester, Conn., to begin a new life with his aunt, Karla Clay-Bey, and never went back to Dorchester. He didn’t know everything that his father was involved with, he said, and he stopped asking questions about the death as he grew up.
“I suggested counseling, because he went through a lot. He didn’t feel he needed it. He didn’t want to go to counseling,” Clay-Bey said. “He had talked to me about it over the years. Obviously it was a traumatic situation, but it didn’t affect him like you would expect it to.”
Eventually, a massive growth spurt put Andrew on the radar of several Division I schools once he began playing football at Manchester High. He initially committed to Boston College before decommitting and pledging to Maryland, though he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament that scared a number of recruiters away during his junior year of high school.
After his injury against Syracuse, Clay-Bey visited Isaacs in the hospital and told him it was another obstacle that he could overcome. She has often told her nephew that his parents would be proud of the man he has become, especially after he pulled himself out of the doldrums of the past two years. Isaacs was granted a medical redshirt in April 2015 and didn’t play last year, slowly rehabilitating the knee with arduous stretching exercises and physical therapy.
He returned to the field during spring practice and found himself at square one, passed over by younger and healthier tight ends on the roster. He becomes frustrated at times with his movements, because there are simple cuts that his mind wants to make but his body won’t anymore. He isn’t afraid of the contact, however, and he doesn’t have flashbacks to the injury.
Isaacs, listed a 6 feet 2 and 240 pounds, is again in the best shape of his life, ready to reclaim his spot and make the most of another opportunity. The comeback was at the center of his message during one of his final radio shows of his internship, where he earned credits toward his degree.
“That’s really all I think about every day, he said, “is having the chance to play again.”