ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WUSA9)- It is one of the most famous pieces of naval literature ever penned: "On the strength of one link in the cable, dependeth the might of the chain." Finally, the chain is mighty in Annapolis again.
"That time that I spent away because of this injury was really hard because I wasn't with my friends or anyone from here," says Rafi Montalvo.
When Montalvo uses the word "this," he means the Naval Academy, a place where young men and women are pushed to their physical, mental and emotional limits to prepare them for real-world life and death situations.
Last November was just that.
"You want to say 'no, please no, hopefully it's a mistake,'" says Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo.
It wasn't. It was last Thanksgiving, and Montalvo and a friend had just reunited in his hometown of Miami when the car they were in, driven by Montalvo's friend, plowed into a home on a dark, foggy street. The police report stated the car didn't appear to stop or decelerate upon impact. Montalvo and his friend were both airlifted to a nearby hospital, Montalvo clinging to life.
"I remember landing at the hospital and then like, waking up after," says Montalvo.
During the time that Montalvo doesn't remember was a harrowing tale, as doctors determined Montalvo would need to be placed in a medically induced coma. Meanwhile. 1,100 miles away, on the cusp of the biggest game of the year, Army-Navy, members of Montalvo's football family were reeling. His position coach, Ivin Jasper, was dealing with the guilt that he missed the chance to talk with his young quarterback before Montalvo left on vacation.
"He was sitting in there watching film and I was gonna say 'come in and let's just talk,'" remembers Jasper. "I was thinking,' let's just spend some time together,' and I just kick myself for not doing it."
Coach and his team carried that emotional weight into the Army-Navy game, and while Montalvo lay in his hospital room still in a coma, the Midshipmen won a thriller. While celebrations poured out in Philadelphia, reality sank in, Montalvo's life was still hanging in the balance.
Coach Ken Niumatalolo remembers went to visit Montalvo after the game. As he left he admits the thought that he might not ever see his quarterback again crossed his mind. "Yes it did," says Niumatalolo.
Montalvo did make it, and thus began his improbable journey back to football.
"It's a miracle," says Niumatalolo.
It's also been a nine month ordeal chock full of cognitive tests, redoing his plebe or freshman year, and reunions.
"Rafi beat all the odds," says Navy starting quarterback Keenan Reynolds. "They said he'd never play football again, they said he'd never come back to the Academy and now he's here."
"The first place I went when I got back was the weight room in Ricketts Hall," says Montalvo. "A lot of the football team was there and they were all so surprised to see me. I remember one of our defensive players picked me up he was like 'oh my God, he's back.'"
The next step is full contact drills and eventually playing games but doctors have told him they want him to wait at least a year before they will even consider him playing again. A year's almost up and while Montalvo's chomping at the bit, it's not that simple.
"You're concerned," says Niumatalolo. "I know the doctors are very concerned too. When he gets his clearance I'll be leery but I don't want to hold him back."
And if he ever does take the field again, what will that day be like?
"I don't normally talk a lot but I would say it would be very emotional for me," says Montalvo.
And many others, too.