Navy quarterback Rafi Montalvo remembers flying home to Florida on Thanksgiving Day last year, but the memories of what happened to him late that November night are still a little fuzzy.
It is probably for the best.
The last thing Montalvo recalls was going out for McDonald's with his good friend Chris Herrera, and Herrera pulling his car into a gas station a couple of miles from Montalvo's Coral Gables home. Montalvo said he also has "little glances" of being whisked by medical helicopter to the Kendall Medical Center nearby.
It was there where Montalvo was admitted in critical condtion for a head injury sustained after Herrera's car crashed into an abandoned house at the end of a dark, foggy street.
It was there, more than two weeks later, where Montalvo woke up after being put in a medically induced coma for 16 days because of the trauma to his brain and then spending another week drifting in a pharmaceutical fog.
While Herrera was released after being treated for a broken leg, Montalvo would spend a total of 45 days in the hospital and then several months going for rehabilitation up to five hours a day, the last four months at a VA hospital in Richmond, Va.
His parents, Ralph and Ivette, picked him up there July 2 and drove him back to Annapolis.
His life as a midshipman had been given back to Montalvo.
"When I realized what had happened to me, my first thought was, 'How am I going to get back here?'" Montalvo said earlier this week, sitting in a room at Ricketts Hall. "Then I was going through all these different types of therapies so I could get up here as fast as possible."
Said Ralph Montalvo: "When he started coming out of [the coma] the first thing he talked about was playing football. And, 'who won the Army-Navy game?'"
Montalvo, who was a plebe at the time of the accident, is starting over academically. His football career is on hold, and he has been told by Navy doctors that he must wait at least a year from the day of the crash to be cleared again to play.
But he will be back with his teammates as they start practicing Saturday for the 2013 season, which begins Sept. 7 at Indiana.
"I can lift and condition with the team, and that's what I've been doing," he said. "I think they're going to have me throwing the ball to the receivers and the A-backs when I can, and doing that until November. It's great to be back. These are the best friends I've made in my life."
Ralph Montalvo, who was a scout team offensive lineman at Miami during the mid-1980s, said his son had lost nearly 50 pounds while being hospitalized but now weighs 209 pounds, a few more than he did when he weighed himself after eating Thanksgiving dinner.
The only physical scar is on his left ear, which was severed during the crash.
"He is pretty much the kid he was before," the elder Montalvo said Wednesday. "He was mature before but he's more focused now. He really knows what's important in life right now. He's really focused on getting his life back on track. He's a kid who loves what he's doing, playing football and being at Navy. … There's still a road for him to get there, but things look good for him."
Ralph Montalvo added that his son has shown no signs of the brain trauma he sustained and "since he got out of the ICU, he hasn't had any medicine, not even Advil. No pain, no headaches, no symptons, everything has come back wonderfully."
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said Monday that Montalvo's return "is unbelievable" and that Montalvo is working really hard "both on and off the field."
"I've got good reports from the doctors," Niumatalolo said. "They're going through all the tests to make sure that he can academically and physically handle everything. It's still a demanding schedule" without football.
Montalvo said he has seen steady progress in what he has been able to comprehend, and currently has an A in a Naval history course. Even though he was a good student before the accident, Montalvo said, "When I do great, I feel a lot better than I used to."
Niumatalolo, who flew to Florida with offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper and assistant coach Chris Culton a couple of days after the accident, said it was one of the most difficult things he had to do in his career. A number of Montalvo's Navy teammates who were also home in South Florida for Thanksgiving converged on the hospital as well.
"It was really hard. You just saw the guy only a couple of days before at practice and then he is on life support. That was tough to see," Niumatalolo recalled. "To see his parents, I can only imagine what that was like. Actually I don't want to imagine what that was like. His mother is always such a vibrant lady and you see it just ripped her heart out."
One of those still fuzzy memories after the accident came the day of the Army-Navy game. The team had sent the uniform Montalvo — who had been promoted from scout team to third string — was supposed to wear for the game in Philadelphia. His parents had taken it to their son's hospital room.
"I laid it across his bed in the ICU room so when he opened his eyes it was right there," his father said.
Ralph Montalvo said the accident has been a life-altering event for the family. Rafi Montalvo has two younger brothers, Nicholas (18) and Marcus (13).
"It changes your whole family in a positive way," Ralph Montalvo said. "It puts everything in perspective. One of the things he said when he was getting better was, 'Dad, I'm really happy because God must have good plans for me.' The support and prayers from everyone here and at Navy helped us get through, and when you get to the other side of it, you're much stronger than you were before."
Said Rafi Montalvo: "It definitely made me enjoy the little things, from getting a question right in therapy, to being able to do one pullup in therapy working out. Being able to hang out with my brothers, working out with [Nicholas] and playing basketball with my little brother."
There is one major step to be taken, one that will come only if Montalvo is cleared to play.
"Being able to play football again, that would be amazing to me," said Montalvo, who also played on Navy's JV team last fall. "Every little step I take on the football field, I would cherish every moment. I think I took it for granted before."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun