Roman SanDoval hesitated when asked to look back on his career at Holy Cross. It was difficult to determine whether the long pause was over the proper selection of words or a quick reflection on a football career jumbled with injuries.
"It's tough to talk about my career without mentioning the injuries," he said. "Before that junior year ankle injury I really thought my career was coming together for me. That time was really devastating.
"My overall career at Holy Cross has been great. I wouldn't have it any other way, especially with the things that I've learned coming back from the injuries, what I learned from having to take time off, the appreciation that I've gained for the game."
Given a second ... or third, or fourth ... chance, SanDoval is making the most of it as a fifth-year redshirt senior linebacker at Holy Cross. He is leading the team in tackles on the field, and making his impression on others off the field.
"Roman is very intense and he's a very explosive player," Crusaders coach Tom Gilmore said. "He runs very well, he's quick and he can change direction. He's a very, very hard hitter. That's part of his injury situation ... he is all over the place. He just plays so hard. He's very, very explosive. He can really deliver a blow."
Coming out of Shady Side Academy as an undersized linebacker and a PIAA wrestling champion, SanDoval quickly made his mark with the Crusaders.
A 5-foot-10, 216-pounder, SanDoval played in 10 games as a freshman but missed a game due to a concussion. As a sophomore he played in all 11 games, earning his first career start, and had 34 total tackles for the season.
It was in his junior year that he really began to understand the Crusaders' multiple defensive schemes ... and when the injuries really set him back.
After three games he had 15 tackles including nine in a victory against Harvard, but a freak injury ended his season.
"We just came off a bye week and were getting ready to play New Hampshire for the fourth week of the season," he said. "In practice, I was coming off the edge and rolled over the ankle and it snapped on me. I thought it was just a sprained ankle.
"I was walking around on it with just an air cast for a few days. I told the trainers it wasn't getting any better, if anything it was getting worse."
X-rays determined the break and he was awarded a medical redshirt. Though he was granted extra playing time, getting through the wait and rehabilitation process wasn't easy.
"It was really tough for me, especially because of the amount of time we put in here," said SanDoval, a Hampton resident. "Also, I spent the entire summer up here working out. I was in peak shape. I just gained a starting spot. It was really tough for me. It was a devastating time in my career."
But he made up for lost time when he finally came back last season.
As a redshirt junior, SanDoval finished second on the team with 75 tackles, playing in nine games with seven starts. As a captain, his numbers placed him eighth in the Patriot League in tackles and included a season-high 14 against Dartmouth.
Before he could complete his junior season, however, another injury struck.
Toward the end of the season, SanDoval sustained a Lizfranc injury. A Lizfranc injury results if ligaments that support the midfoot are torn or bones in the midfoot are broken. A very painful injury, recovery time is usually listed in months especially when surgery is involved.
SanDoval sat out a game and played the last game of the season with the injury. He knew, though, that he was again in for another battle.
"Coming back from that injury I was a little more skeptical as to how I would come back," he said. "I actually still have a pretty big screw going through that Lizfranc joint. There was a little uncertainty especially considering the time I had to come back in and the time it usually takes for one of these injuries to heal.
"I actually feel better this year than in years past. Ultimately it's about my power to endure with these injuries and my will to endure."
So far this season, SanDoval has endured and is taking out his frustration on opposing offenses.
Alternating between the Mike position, which is always an inside linebacker, and the Will position, which is more versatile and plays on the inside, outside and can also cover the No. 2 receiver as a hybrid strong safety, SanDoval has once again regained his intensity and is leading the team in tackles.
"Roman is very, very strong," Gilmore said. "He's one of the strongest guys on the team, he's stronger than most of our linemen. But he has that explosiveness that you need. He doesn't play small.
"Our offensive linemen don't like to block him. If they can get a hand on him, that's one thing. But when they do, he's low to the ground and he's strong and he's explosive, he can really deliver a blow."
Through eight games this season, SanDoval has a team-high 55 tackles, 45 solo, with 2 tackles for loss, 1 pass break up and 1 fumble recovery. In the Patriot League home opener Saturday against Colgate, he had four solo tackles but the Crusaders (3-5, 1-1) fell short, 28-24.
The Crusaders travel to Fisher Stadium in Easton, Pa., to take on Lafayette (1-5, 1-0) in another Patriot League matchup Saturday. And once again, hopefully, SanDoval will be in the lineup.
"I'd have to say I'm happy with the way things have gone for me," he said. "As an undersized linebacker coming out of high school, coach Gilmore gave me a shot. Having the ability to play at this level of football, I couldn't be more happy. It's not all about football, but also the academic experience I'm getting here as well.
"Every time I step on the field now I have a greater sense of appreciation for the time I lost."
Rick Davis: email@example.com or 412-263-3789.