A year ago, Ross Norwood wasn't able to do what he loved. He had been forced off the soccer pitch due to chronic concussions, and didn't know if he'd ever return.
Fast forward to Saturday, and there was Norwood, making 18 saves in net for his fifth-seeded Colorado Springs Christian School Lions, propelling them to an upset win at No. 4 Vail Mountain to send his team to the 3A state semifinals.
"Being able to play again is just a gift from God," Norwood said. "So often, it's easy to take for granted being out on the field each day. I realize what a blessing this is, and I think that's reflected in my play. I'm giving it my all every game, and I'm not reserving anything."
Norwood suffered the fourth concussion of his soccer career toward the start of his junior season, prompting doctors to tell him that he would have to give up his dreams of playing for CSCS - and for the Air Force Academy, someday.
Norwood worked with the local Human Performance and Rehabilitation center, and after four months of training and therapy, improved his brain strength enough to get back on the field.
"It's such a special thing to see that, because not many players get told that they'll never have a chance to play again, and then come back and do it," CSCS coach Jason Rollins said. "He struggled last year, because soccer was such a big part of his life, and it molded him as a person coming back from that."
Not only has Norwood re-emerged, he's done it in style. The 6-foot-4 senior has used his wingspan and athletic ability to anchor the Lions' defense to within two victories of a state title.
Norwood shut out Ridgway in the first round, then made 14 saves in a 4-0 win over Bruce Randolph. His big performance in the quarters, on the road against Vail Mountain, was his best yet.
"We have a young defense, but I couldn't be more proud of them," Norwood said. "They're strong, and have done an amazing job of making my job easier. As a goalie, having confidence in your defense is half the battle."
CSCS (16-2) started the season with three wins, then lost the next two - to Kent Denver and Jefferson Academy - before reeling off 13 straight victories.
In those 13 games, Norwood has allowed just six goals. Now, as he chases a state title, Norwood's ultimate dream of playing for Air Force is getting closer by the save.
"He's a leader, not only on the team, but within the school and community, and is the poster child for the things we want to see in our kids at school," Rollins said of Norwood. "Air Force would get all the benefits of a true leader who does it by example - on and off the field."
Kent Denver is 17-0-1 and the top seed in the 3A bracket. But when the Sun Devils see CSCS for the second time Wednesday, Norwood is hoping it will be a different outcome.
"Since we lost those two games, there's been a lot of growth and unifying on our team," Norwood said. "We're not the same team now as we were earlier in the season, and Kent Denver is going to see a different side of us."