He’d waited so long and already lost so much of his junior wrestling season.
So no hesitation accompanied his response. Healthy and cleared to compete, the question from his Cobleskill-Richmondville coaches — “Are you feeling good? You want to wrestle tonight?” — only had one possible answer as far as Jeff Crooks saw it, especially on a night with a championship at stake.
“Let’s go for it,” Crooks said.
He did — and there’s been no stopping Crooks since that point.
After a nasty ankle injury suffered in Week 1 of his football season ended his gridiron campaign, Crooks made his wrestling season debut in January with two dominant individual wins as his Bulldogs claimed their first-ever Section II Division 2 dual meet championship.
Since that night when he pinned a pair of opponents in a combined 56 seconds, Crooks has won 11 more matches without suffering a defeat. Within that stretch, Crooks claimed solo Section II Class CC and Section II Division 2 titles at 220 pounds, and he now heads into the state championships that start Friday at Times Union Center in Albany as a No. 1 seed.
Crooks finished in fourth place at last year's state tournament. His 2019-20 wrestling season, though, was put in jeopardy when he suffered an ankle avulsion fracture in Cobleskill-Richmondville's Week 1 football game against Schalmont.
"The tendon sits in a groove, [and] the outer layer of bone in the groove I ripped completely off and the soft tissue that's above it. I tore that up so that the tendon was actually coming out of place and snapping against the other tendon," Crooks said.
Originally, Crooks' injury was thought to be a high ankle sprain, which is a common initial diagnosis when someone suffers an ankle avulsion fracture. He tried to continue playing that night against Schalmont, but couldn't.
"They tape it up," Crooks said, "I go to take a step, I feel this snap and I can't walk and I fall."
His hopes of a minor injury were dashed, along with the rest of his football season. A successful surgery later, Crooks began working toward saving what he could of his wrestling season.
"I didn't know if I would be able to wrestle because the timeline was placing me back into the beginning of January," Crooks said last week during a practice at Shenendehowa for Section II's wrestlers heading to the state tournament. "If something happened and it was the end of January, and things were not healing up correctly, there is no way I'm wrestling this season."
Early on, his rehabilitation focused on the basics: standing, then walking.
"My leg, it was just flab," Crooks said. "The surrounding muscles had been in a cast and a boot. Everything . . . was weak. I had to gain my balance back, get the stability back, make sure everything around it was good, and then it was a lot of just strengthening my muscles again."
Cobleskill-Richmondville head coach Justin Kimball never questioned Crooks' ability to return to the wrestling room at 100%. Kimball saw how hard Crooks worked, and knew it would happen for the junior this season.
"He's a kid that was getting up at 4:30 in the morning to go work out at the gym to do exercises [so] he could . . . be ready to jump on the mat," Kimball said. "Physical therapy. Weight room. Doing whatever he could to get himself healthy, to get himself ready, to compete."
Finally, Crooks was ready to compete on that night in January when he scored two quick wins. Not even two weeks later, Crooks' ankle and mettle were tested in severe fashion again when he needed to face two high-level opponents at the state dual meet championships.
Any questions that remained about Crooks strength after his comeback, he answered.
First, he handed last year's state third-place finisher Karl Boyer a 5-1 loss, the first of the year for the Clarke (Section VIII) champion. That win was especially sweet for Crooks, who lost to Boyer in last year's third-place match.
"We really had nothing to lose from that match," Kimball said. "We just let him go out there and wrestle."
Crooks? He was on top of the world.
“That," Crooks said, "was the moment where I knew that this season could be what I dreamed of."
That momentum carried into the day's second match, a quick pin for Crooks of last year's fifth-place state finisher, Port Jervis' James Oosterom, in less than 90 seconds.
"Before that injury, I dreamed of being a top state finisher, winning states," Crooks said. "Then I go out there and I do that. Even with the injury, that's still possible. That's still something I can do."
While the toughest part of Crooks' journey is behind him, he knows there is still plenty of work to do if he is going to claim the state championship he covets.
But, just like he did on that January night to start his season, he's going to go for it.
"The injury is not going to hold me back. I've been working hard. My coach has been pushing me," Crooks said. "I'm just going to go out there and give it my all. I want to be on top of the podium."