If Michael Lois had his way, he would be back in a football helmet and pads tomorrow.
Maybe even today, if he could find his gear quickly enough.
That isn’t possible right now, but it’s becoming more and more likely the Elkhorn Area High junior will be back on a football field at some point.
Less than two months after a devastating injury nearly left him paralyzed, Lois is progressing rapidly through his rehab.
It’s likely a matter of when, not if, the imposing defensive lineman—who has verbally committed to the University of Iowa—will play football again.
“I’m going to make this the best comeback ever,” Lois told a room full of family members, friends and well-wishers Sunday during a fundraiser at Evergreen Country Club near Elkhorn.
“I worked hard for this once. I’ve just got to do it again.”
On Sept. 16, Lois broke three vertebrae in his spine when he dove head-first into a friend’s pool.
Jumping from a trampoline, he missed his intended landing spot—a floaty—and struck his head on the pool’s bottom.
Lois remembers being unable to move his arms or legs after the impact. A friend helped pull the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Lois from the pool.
“Everything just stopped working,” Lois told Matthew Bain of The Des Moines Register a few weeks after the accident.
Lois underwent multiple surgeries over the next two days—including having his broken vertebrae fused to a metal rod. Doctors feared he would never walk again.
Uncertainty over Lois’ condition made for some scary hours, said Elkhorn Area football coach Tom Lee, who visited Lois at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee two days after the accident.
By then, Lois was already in high spirits and wore a big smile, Lee said.
“It’s unbelievable the progress he made from day one to day two and day three and beyond,” Lee said.
A few days later, Lois was on the sideline cheering on his teammates as they played Waterford.
About two weeks after the accident, he was back in school.
“Every improvement he made was like a milestone,” said Lee, who would show videos of Lois’ early recovery to the students in his social studies classes.
Lois reached another key milestone last Thursday, when he graduated from his first round of physical therapy. He is still wearing a neck brace but expects to have it removed before Christmas.
Once the brace is off, Lois would begin another round of physical therapy to strengthen his neck muscles.
“It turns a lot of people’s heads (with) the rate of the recovery,” Lois said. “I set goals and just try to achieve them week by week.”
Considering his starting point, Lois has made remarkable improvement. He isn’t in pain and has full use of his extremities. He’s been able to lift light weights.
But doctors recommended he give up football. Defensive linemen are especially vulnerable to head and neck injuries.
“I told them ‘no.’ Football is all I’ve done my whole life,” Lois said in a late September interview with Milwaukee TV station Fox 6. “I’ve worked so hard for it—not to just give it up now.”
Lois fully expects to be in uniform next August when Elkhorn opens its 2019 football season. If he plays again, it would be a huge lift for the Elks.
“He was an enforcer,” Lee said. “You felt like you could do anything. The kids rallied behind him when he was on the field.”
It is unclear whether Iowa would honor its scholarship offer to Lois if he is unable to play football again. But Lois has been in frequent contact with members of the Hawkeyes coaching staff since his accident and said he’s heard nothing but support coming from Iowa City.
Lois committed to Iowa after attending the Hawkeyes’ season opener against Northern Illinois on Sept. 1. He returned to Kinnick Stadium on Oct. 20, joining other recruits to watch Iowa face Maryland.
It was yet another indication that his life is returning to normal.
“They’ve always believed in me,” Lois said. “The people are amazing. That’s why we fell in love with Iowa so quickly.”
Locally, donations have poured into the #90Strong Foundation—a reference to Lois’ jersey number. Other teams in the Southern Lakes Football Conference put No. 90 decals on their helmets this season.
Lois’ aunt, Brooke Dahlberg, who helped organize Sunday’s fundraiser, estimated 500 people attended over the course of four hours. Funds raised will help offset Lois’ medical costs.
Lois is expected to make a full recovery. It’s not going to happen as fast as he would like, but he’s hopeful for the future.
If he has it his way, Lois will be ready to go by the time football teams can begin issuing equipment Aug. 5, 2019.
“You just want to take this neck brace off and put a helmet on again.”