Owatonna wide receiver Ty Sullivan caught the football and headed up field late in the first half of the Minnesota Class AAAAA championship game on Nov. 30, 2013, in Minneapolis.

Just then, his foot locked into the Metrodome turf and his knee buckled. The last Prep Bowl game ever played at the Metrodome also appeared to be Sullivan’s last as his left knee was shredded in gruesome fashion.

RELATED: Big upsets lead to new-look Top 10 in latest DII poll

Surprisingly, Sullivan said he felt no pain, his adrenaline running high, but he knew it wasn’t good.

“It was just a normal football play, and my foot got stuck,” Sullivan said. “It was like a bunch of rubber bands snapped.”

After three surgeries and nearly four years of rehab, Sullivan returned to play in his first game Sept. 28 as a member of the Minnesota Duluth football team. Playing on the Bulldogs’ kickoff unit, the senior made the tackle on his only time on the field.

“I think there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from Ty,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said. “It’s not always about making plays. It’s about being a good person and leader, and when your time comes, although it may be for only one play your entire career, you need to be prepared for it. He prepared four years for one opportunity, and when it came, he did it.”

An arduous journey

Sullivan was a multisport athlete at Owatonna, Minnesota, where he played wide receiver and safety. He received solid NCAA Division II interest and some from Football Championship Subdivision programs. UMD had Sullivan as its top safety prior to his injury in Owatonna’s 24-0 title-game win over Brainerd.

“The coaches here were the only ones to stick by me after I got hurt,” Sullivan said. “They were my frontrunner to start with, and when they were the only ones to stick around, it kind of showed the character that we have here. It worked out perfectly.”

WATCH: Top DII football plays of the week