ONALASKA — Nate Lubinsky has been waiting for this summer for a long time.
It’s been 10 months since the Onalaska High School running back injured his knee and lost half of his junior season.
The road back to the field has been difficult. The desire to get back to 100 percent moves much quicker than the rehabilitation process, and Lubinsky has had to pace himself to ensure his torn anterior cruciate ligament heals correctly.
“There were some strength goals that I didn’t feel like I met in time, but I just stuck with what I needed to do,” Lubinsky said during a break from a summer practice with his teammates. “You have to learn to listen to your body, and I struggle with that at times.”
But Lubinsky is healthy. He is conquering the final steps of getting back to where he was nearly a year ago and anxious to get going on a new season with a team aiming for a special year.
He’s ready to make up for lost time and try to help the Hilltoppers make a run at a third MVC championship in four years. Lubinsky has been an impact player since his freshman season, and there is no reason to think that will change despite the injury.
“We haven’t seen him cut full speed yet, and we’re easing into it,” Onalaska coach Tom Yashinsky said of Lubinsky, who averaged 146.2 rushing yards and scored seven touchdowns in five games as a junior. “The speed and strength is back to normal.
“He worked very hard over the winter and since then. He doesn’t say much, but he’s said it feels good.”
Lubinsky’s presence is important because of the difference he makes on both sides of the ball.
After playing linebacker as a freshman and sophomore, he shifted to safety as a junior. Yashinsky anticipates another change this season to defensive end, teaming him with senior Conner Haggerty to make a formidable pass-rushing tandem.
“With those two at end while we play four or five spread teams,” Yashinsky said with a smile before rattling off some of Onalaska’s opponents, “... it’s something we like.”
Lubinsky trusts his coach’s suggestion but knows he has some work to do over the next month.
“I’m not very experienced at it, but I know we have great coaches to get me ready,” said Lubinsky, who is listed at 5-foot-10, 205 pounds on his recruiting profile. “I think I’ll be able to get out there and do it.”
Lubinsky rushed for 731 yards in five games last season after gaining 1,112 as a sophomore. Those two seasons included 21 rushing touchdowns, 14 of which came when the Hilltoppers tied for the 2017 conference title.
He was a tackling machine as a linebacker — Lubinsky made 113 tackles as a sophomore — and has made 18 stops behind the line of scrimmage during his career.
That is the player Yashinsky expects to be on the field this season. The coach also believes the motivation for it to happen is there as Lubinsky embarks on his final chances to catch the eyes of college scouts.
“Whenever a kid in the area gets offered (a scholarship), he notices it,” Yashinsky said. “He is ready for August 6th (the first day of padded practice), and he is ready to show what he can do.”