KEARNEY, Neb. — Kooper Reece doesn’t need to be here. 

Instead of running sprints on the sideline at UNK football practice, he could be back home working on his family ranch near Valentine.

“I’m stubborn I guess,” Reece said.

Reece graduated last May, but he’s here grinding out his rehab from a devastating right knee injury in hopes of playing a seventh season of college football.

“Between my parents, the players, my roommates, all that — they weren’t going to let me just walk away,” Reece said.

The injury happened October 1, 2022 against Fort Hays St.

“I was blocking a guy, and next thing you know, I was on my back and that was it,” Reece said.

Reece tore his patellar tendon off his tibia, ruptured his ACL, tore his MCL and tore his meniscus.

“I didn’t know what was wrong, but I knew something was wrong," Reece said. "Like, I didn’t want to look at my leg because I didn’t know which way my toes were going to be pointing or something like that.”

Two surgeries and a year-and-a-half later, he’s participating in spring practice and doing everything except going live. Coach Ryan Held says it’s a testament to the offensive lineman’s passion for his team.

“You’re just like man, this guys loves this," Held said. "He loves the Lopers. He wants to be here.”

“The second I stepped on this campus I was surrounded by good guys," Reece said. "The older guys when I was a redshirt, all that. Seeing them go through COVID and just taking that extra year to come back and just give it one last shot. That’s kind of what kept me going through all of it.”

You can count Held among those cheering for the 6-foot-6, 300-pound left tackle’s full recovery.

“You watch his film before he got hurt, he was, you could say one of the best linemen in the MIAA," Held said. "He just brings a lot of value in all aspects — on the field, off the field, in the community.”

The Cherry County ranch will always be there. Right now, Reece wants to finish out his Loper career and see if he can continue playing the position he loves as a professional.

“I honestly think it makes you a better man in general," Reece said. "Skill players, they get all the praise, but when something goes wrong it’s on the offensive line. You kind of gotta take that on the chin and move onto the next play. You can’t let one play define an entire series or a game, so you just gotta keep rolling with the punches.”

Something Reece plans to do for at least one more season.