Make no mistake. The patellar tendon injury and the subsequent surgery have kept injured junior running back Darius Willis from the football field this season.
It’s an injury that pushed the IU Athletics Department to apply for a medical hardship for its star.
But that patellar tendon injury isn’t keeping Willis from the wrestling ring.
The injured running back first made a side appearance at an Infinity Pro Wrestling event in late September, on the same day his team fell to North Texas, 24-21.
On Saturday, he’ll appear in his first official wrestling match as part of Team PJB.
So, why can Willis wrestle with an injury but not put up numbers on the field?
Simple. It’s the type of injury.
Dr. Vijay Jotwani is an assistant professor of clinical family Sports Medicine. Put simply, he’s a non-surgical sports medicine doctor.
Jotwani said the reasons athletes are unable to participate in one sport because of an injury but can perform in another while still injured are a case-by-case basis.
“One is the injury itself. Obviously, you need to get an accurate diagnosis and try to decide specifically what’s going on and your limitations,” Jotwani said. “Then it’s a matter of deciding what the issue is.
“Perhaps if he was really doing pro wrestling and he had an injury that he couldn’t play football with ... you wonder if he did that under the proper medical guidance or not. You know, you just have to wonder.”
Jotwani went on to explain that there are two types of injuries: those that get worse by playing on them and those that won’t get worse by playing on them. The latter are more about managing pain.
“There’s some potential if you had a bad ACL tear and you tried to play with that ACL tear because your knee now is a little bit looser that you can damage other parts of the knee,” Jotwani said. “But a rib injury, you see a lot of these NFL players playing with a rib injury. They’ll get a pain injection to numb up that area of the chest and they’ll go ahead and play. It will still be uncomfortable, but the body is going to continue to heal.”
However, in some injuries, it’s a case of movement. For Willis, it’s a case of pivoting, like he could do while running a route or avoiding a defender.
Don Lechien, the co-owner and promoter of Infinity Pro Wrestling, said Willis’ knee hasn’t given his new team too many problems.
“Luckily, in pro wrestling that cutting motion is limited,” Lechien said. “So, it’s not really that big of a concern.”
On the posters for the event are two photos: one of PJB and one of Willis, with the words “Indiana running back” in red underneath.
Lechien is expecting 300 to 400 people at Saturday’s event at Bloomington’s National Guard Armory. Team PJB’s five-on-five is the semi-main event.
“Darius is holding up pretty well in the training aspect of it and getting in front of the crowd. He’s going to really stand out and shine,” Leichen said of the running back who has performed in a stadium with more than 100,000 fans. “I know when I’ve had injuries in the past, once you get that adrenaline flowing, you never even feel it, up until the next day. “
While Willis declined to comment about his next wrestling appearance, PJB said they are both excited to get in the ring.
“He’s improved a lot and he’s started to learn the psychology that’s behind wrestling,” PJB said. “I think it’s fantastic that fans who didn’t get to see him play football will get to see him in some way in his last year at IU.”