Max Van Arsdale paces the sidelines while his teammates on the Penn State men's lacrosse team hold a scrimmage in practice.
The fifth-year senior, wearing only his warm-up sweats with no pads, can only twirl his stick and look on, wondering what could have been.
After suffering multiple concussions over the offseason, Van Arsdale has not played or practiced -- or even thrown a ball -- in a month, and said he thinks his lacrosse career could be over. The veteran attackman is awaiting the results of his latest MRI, but said he isn't anticipating good news.
"At this point I'm not really getting my hopes up anymore," Van Arsdale said.
Van Arsdale, whose 27 points in 2008 ranked second on the team, said he's experienced headaches every day, even when he doesn't try to suit up and practice. Coach Glenn Thiel added every time he tries to test his abilities, the headaches return.
Van Arsdale's troubles started in the fall, when he suffered a concussion during practice. Medical personnel cleared him to play about three weeks later, Van Arsdale said.
Soon after his return, Van Arsdale "just bumped shoulders" with an opponent during a scrimmage in Morton, a few miles outside of Philadelphia. Van Arsdale said the symptoms returned immediately after the collision.
Since then, the senior has tried to stay away from playing and let the concussion heal. "It's tough," he said, but with concussions, there isn't much else to do.
"You can't do any rehab for it, you don't really have any medication for it to speed it up," Van Arsdale said. "So it's just, you know, don't push yourself too hard and hope you start feeling better."
Being unable to play for five months has made Van Arsdale doubtful about his ability to return. He took an MRI last week and will visit a neurologist next Tuesday, when he'll learn his playing future.
Van Arsdale said nothing has jumped out on the chart, and he doesn't expect to be cleared. He suffered an ankle injury that caused him to redshirt his sophomore season, so without special exemption from the NCAA, 2009 is Van Arsdale's final year of eligibility.
The attackman said he doesn't plan on filing for special exemption, effectively ending his playing career.
"Not real happy about it," Van Arsdale said of the situation. "It's just something that I've done my whole life and it's something I love to do, and can't really do it anymore. So it's just sort of like they pulled the rug right out from under me all of a sudden and I wasn't really prepared for it. It sucks."
Senior goalie Drew Adams said the team is trying to be optimistic about Van Arsdale's possible return, but it realizes his post-concussions syndromes are worse than expected.
"[A concussion] is one of the things you don't want to mess with," Adams said. "That's a scary thing if you're gonna go out and play with a concussion. It's just, it's not safe and it's not good."
On a team stocked with young offensive talent like freshmen Jack Forster and Matt Mackrides, Adams said Van Arsdale's experience would be a big advantage. On media day two weeks ago, Thiel called Van Arsdale "an ace for us to make some plays."
Thiel pointed to last season's finale against then-No. 4 Georgetown, when Van Arsdale's four goals and three assists led Penn State to an overtime victory.
"He's obviously a very talented, gifted lacrosse player," Thiel said. "Not the greatest athlete, but he's a very smart, slick, savvy lacrosse player. And obviously we would like him."
Van Arsdale has remained part of the squad by attending practices and aiding younger players by giving them advise. Van Arsdale said he also helps the coaches put together clips for film study.
While he would be glad to have Van Arsdale back on the field, Thiel said the team has to prepare to play without one of its leading scorers.
"You've gotta play with the cards you have," Thiel said. "If we get X, we play with X. If we get Y, we play with Y. That's who we are. It's the nature of sports."