BANGOR — The drive took less than 30 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity to Caden Servais.
It’s been a little more than five years since he slipped and fell while working on his family farm in Middle Ridge.
He remembers both the pain of that moment and every moment that followed as his family got him in a van and drove him to Gundersen Health System in La Crosse.
“All of the pain was in my hip,” the Bangor High School senior remembers. “I remember every single bump as we drove down Irish Hill. Every single bump.”
Servais, who refused to ride in an ambulance, knew what awaited him because he’d been through it all before. He wasn’t even a year removed from a hospital stay and six weeks on crutches after injuring the growth plate on his right hip.
This injury was to the growth plate on his left hip, and Servais’ previous experience told him that this one was much more serious.
“The pain,” he said, “was unbearable this time.”
The pain when all of this started was more annoying than anything. Servais felt it, but he never really acknowledged it.
Servais didn’t play much football at that point. Flag football didn’t appeal to him, but he knew he wanted to play in high school just like his father (Doug) and older brother (Luke) did before him.
The injuries suffered before he was a teenager threatened that dream.
They led to him entering high school as a 6-foot, 224-pound lineman benching 95 pounds and unable to squat anything of significance without a real chance to play.
The hard work he’s put in since then has allowed him to become a 6-4, 288-pound starting right tackle with the ability to bench 250 pounds and squat 405.
“I didn’t know if he’d ever be able to play,” said Bangor coach Rick Muellenberg, whose second-seeded Cardinals (9-0) host seventh-seeded Royall (4-5) in a WIAA Division 7 first-round playoff game on Friday. “I knew he wanted to, but the question was whether he could build his strength up.”
It all came to a head during a wrestling match when Servais was in sixth grade. His right hip had been bothering him, but Servais didn’t give it much thought.
Whining and complaining have never been his nature, according to his mom, Brenda.
“If you sat and talked to him, you’d never know anything was wrong,” she said. “I can’t think of one time when he complained about any of this.”
Servais said it was the last or second-to-last meet of the season, and his opponent shot in for a takedown. His shoulder made hard contact with Caden’s right hip, and it sped up the process of a diagnosis.
A doctor visit that night produced nothing, but the family received a phone call at 6 a.m. the next day asking them to keep Caden off his feet and to get him to Gundersen immediately.
The source of the problem was a growth plate that wasn’t keeping up with his body, and the shot he took in the wrestling match caused a dislocation that required surgery for what is officially called slipped capital femoral epiphysis.
“They put two pins in, and they were about 3 inches long,” Caden said. “I was on crutches for six weeks, and I couldn’t do much because they were worried about how strong the bone was and possible fractures.”
Once given the green light, Servais was loyal to his rehabilitation. More than loyal, actually.
“We would go anywhere and do anything for him at that point,” Brenda said. “We would go to the (swimming) pool because that was something that was really good for him to do.”
Caden felt good about his path until the slip near the barn weeks before he started seventh grade..
The surgery for the growth plate on his left hip required that pins be put in at different angles due to the severity. It didn’t brighten the picture of Caden being able to play football.
“I think I was on crutches eight weeks that time,” he said. “But I went through the (rehab) sheets they gave me again and usually did more than it said I should.”
With wrestling being eliminated as an option due to the injuries, Caden took a tunnel-vision approach to football. He got to play in eighth grade and got the pins removed from his right hip in ninth.
But contributing the way he’d have to in a program like Bangor’s was going to be a longshot without good weight training, and Caden was easing into that.
“He was a couple of years behind everyone else when it came to weight training,” Muellenberg said. “He had to do a lot to catch up and get to where he is now.”
The pins on his left side came out his sophomore year as he zeroed in on what was was expected of Bangor offensive linemen. He even played a little when injuries to other players came up during a season that ended with a Division 7 state championship.
But linemen at Bangor have to be strong, and they have to be quick. They have to move to make blocks in the triple option offense that has been the team’s hallmark for years, and it took until the next season to truly feel comfortable.
Brenda was — and still is — hesitant about seeing her son on the field, but she also knew how badly he wanted to play.
“Yes, it was hard to let him play, and whenever he falls down, I’m sitting there saying, ‘Get up, get up,’” she said. “But he wanted to play with his friends and play for Rick very badly.
“These seniors are very close, and he wanted to be part of that.”