MOORHEAD — Minnesota State Moorhead junior Jake Richter was determined to return to the football field this season, even though the odds weren’t in his favor after suffering an Achilles injury last February.

“This whole process has been a humbling experience,” said Richter, a wide receiver from Detroit Lakes, Minn. “One day I’m running and the next day I can’t even walk.”

Richter made his season debut for the Dragons last Saturday at Scheels Field at Alex Nemzek Stadium against Winona State, around eight months after his Achilles surgery. Five games into the MSUM season, the 6-foot-4, 214-pound Richter got in on 19 plays.

“It says a lot about the inner drive of the kid,” Dragons head coach Steve Laqua. “It was his goal to get back by the Winona game and no one gave him a shot. He put in a lot of work.”

Minnesota State Moorhead junior wide receiver Jake Richter has returned to the field about eight months after he injured his Achilles. David Samson / The Forum
Minnesota State Moorhead junior wide receiver Jake Richter has returned to the field about eight months after he injured his Achilles. David Samson / The Forum

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Richter and the Dragons next play at noon Saturday, Oct. 12, at Concordia-St. Paul, continuing Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play. MSUM (3-2, 3-2 NSIC) is looking to bounce back from a 28-26 home loss against WSU.

“Losing isn’t cool,” Laqua said.

Richter is grateful to be back on the field for his junior season after missing most of the 2017 season with a leg injury and taking a medical redshirt. He had a breakout year last fall, catching 68 passes for 1,113 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Richter’s chances to get back to the field didn’t look promising in February. He was told the expected time frame to return from the injury to his left Achilles, sustained during an offseason workout, was 12 months.

“We are proud of the kid,” Laqua said.

Richter said one of his lowest points was right after surgery, which was Feb. 15, as he wasn’t able to walk. After that, he said the little milestones fueled his rehabilitation. The first time he could walk without crutches, the first time he could start running, and the first time he could start cutting were all signs of progress.

“It all comes down to one day at a time and being grateful for everything you have,” Richter said.

Laqua said Richter’s left Achilles tested out at 97 percent during a recent functional test. That said, Richter is still trying to get back to the level he played at last fall. He’s still working on his overall sharpness, while also monitoring how his Achilles feels. He doesn’t want to add too much workload too fast.

“It’s pretty much how I feel all week and a game-day type of thing,” Richter said of how much he will play in games moving forward. “I’m excited to just get out there.”

Richter had two catches for 35 yards last Saturday against Winona State, including a 22-yard reception. His performance, like his rehabilitation, had its ups and downs, as Richter also dropped a pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter.

“It’s really not like riding a bike,” Richter said. “I was definitely super rusty.”

Even though he played fewer than 20 snaps against Winona State, Richter provided a spark for the Dragons with his presence.

“I think each week that he’s out there and he ‘s able to stay healthy and not having any relapses, his role with grow,” Laqua said. “He’s still a good player. Every day he’s showing progress.”

Richter is happy to be contributing again.

“Any way I can help the team possible, that’s what I want to do,” Richter said. “I’m a born competitor. I didn’t want to sit out a whole (full) year.”