Maryland men’s lacrosse’s Eric Malever worked behind the cage in a 2023 fall scrimmage against Harvard. He ran to his right and shook a defender with a dart to the left.

Malever jumped off his right foot, firing a shot into the net. He immediately pointed his left hand in the air as teammates hugged him with a couple celebratory slaps to his helmet.

The moment was more than just a goal. It represented Malever’s return after missing the entire 2023 season with a torn right ACL and meniscus — the same leg he planted off for the goal.

“I’ll never forget my first time touching the field again,” Malever said. “I came out of the box, ran behind the goal and made a move and scored. My teammates were all hugging me and celebrating. My coach hugged me. I saw my dad in the stands and he was crying. It was a great moment.”

Malever has been a crucial piece of Maryland’s offense this year. He’s one of just three Terps to record at least 10 goals and 10 assists entering the regular season finale against Johns Hopkins.

He’s averaging 2.5 points per game this season, slightly below the pace he averaged in the season before his injury. The emotional October scrimmage came just over a year after Malever suffered the injury.

Maryland was only a few weeks into its 2022 fall season. Malever, who starred as a sophomore in the Terps’ national championship run, took a wrong step in a three-on-three drill during a Wednesday practice. Disaster struck.

“I was in a lot of pain and went down,” Malever said. “Never felt anything like that before, so I knew something was definitely wrong.”

Malever got an MRI that night and received news the next morning that he tore his right ACL and meniscus and would need surgery.

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“I think emotionally that was a really challenging situation for him,” coach John Tillman said. “He put a lot of work into the summer going into that fall of ‘22.”

Malever needed to find a surgeon and a surgery date. He connected with Dr. Robin West, the lead team physician for the Washington Nationals and the former team physician for the Washington Commanders and Pittsburgh Steelers.

They elected to do the surgery October 18. Prehab was necessary in the month leading up to it.

West educated Malever about the surgery and spoke to Anthony Benyarko — Maryland men’s lacrosse’s associate athletic trainer — and the Terps’ physical therapists to prepare. They wanted to limit his swelling to set up an easier recovery.

“It’s physical and mental healing and recovery,” West said. “We focus a lot on that. I think the most important thing is preparation, saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to start at ground zero … we’re just going to now work our way up.’”

Malever arrived early. The doctors shaved his leg hair and put an oxygen mask on him. Malever described the experience as scary — the only surgery he experienced prior was for his wisdom teeth.
Malever said he dealt with the most pain he’s ever felt in the days after the operation. Still, he wanted to start recovery as soon as possible to “attack” rehab.

“I always say my surgery’s a small part,” West said. “Now the recovery, that’s the hard part. That’s his part.”

Malever began his rehab four days after the surgery. He started slowly, doing small exercises to activate his quads and the muscles around his knee. He felt the sooner he worked on the extension in his flexor muscle, the quicker he could move onto the next step of recovery.

Benyarko and Lindsay Riley, Maryland men’s lacrosse’s resident athletic trainer, worked with Malever during his rehab. Maryland’s physical therapists, Rob Rowland and Michael Zarro, focused on Malever’s physical therapy. They were always by Malever’s side, he said, constantly pushing him both mentally and physically.

The rehab was aggressive, as West wanted. Malever did physical therapy Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays and athletic training on Tuesdays and Thursdays. At times, he even lifted weights with his teammates three days a week.

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“I was always smiling happy,” Malever said. “They would come in and I would get distracted because they’re hyping me up. It was non-stop, kind of like a party in PT. Always just a fun time.”

Malever felt he was close to returning to full strength when he left College Park to go back home to Atlanta toward the end of the year. He started practicing cutting in April and dodging in May.

Malever worked out every day in the summer to simulate as much on-field play as possible. He dodged with a pad, shot against goalies and took contact from his trainer, Eric Benson.

Malever started training with Benson when he was six years old. During the recovery process, the pair focused on general movement for an hour at a time, then 30 minutes of strength work.

Malever trained with Benson four days a week and worked out at Peak Performance Project at the Emory Sports Medicine Complex the other three days.

“The hard part about training someone that has the drive and the ability of someone that is a high level athlete is slowing them down,” Benson said. “He’s no different. You have to gauge him and say ‘You really have to hold back a little bit’ because he would push it to the point that he would potentially reinjure himself.”

Benson felt it was obvious early in Malever’s recovery that his stride length was compromised and he couldn’t push out as strongly on his initial burst. But Benson said Malever was close to being 100 percent back by the fall. He was surprised by Malever’s accelerated recovery time.

Malever needed to slowly build back up 21 practice days before playing in a scrimmage after he returned to school. A pulled hamstring set him back a month.

“You have to test it out and get comfortable and get past some things and trust your knee again,” Tillman said. “That does take some time.”

Malever made his return in the Harvard scrimmage a year after his surgery. Then came Maryland’s 2024 season opener against Richmond, 16 months from the day he suffered his injury. It was Malever’s first full game since the 2022 national championship.

The attacker got off to a sluggish start, missing both of his first-half shots. Then, late in the third quarter, he took off from behind the cage and found the back of the net. It was his first non-scrimmage goal in 615 days. His comeback was officially complete.

“When that first shot finally went in, I was just pumped,” Malever said. “At that moment I was like ‘Alright, I’m back to playing. I can do this.’”