Nate Ashton, a Monmouth Academy senior, is back on the pitch after breaking his leg last season. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

MONMOUTH — Everything was looking good for Nate Ashton and the Monmouth boys’ soccer team. Then Ashton’s season came to a crashing halt.

A collision with an opposing goalie early in the 2017 season put a stop to Ashton’s torrid start to his first season with Mustangs. Then came a tumultuous time, which went from weeks to months, all the way up until about a month ago.

“That took the wind out of our sail, for sure,” Monmouth coach Joe Fletcher said. “He’s a very talented player. We had Avery Pomerleau, who scored a lot of goals for us, but (Ashton) would have scored 20, 25 goals last year. He had, I think, eight goals in the first three games.

“He had a really, really tough break.”

Ashton, who transferred from Oak Hill, broke his fibula in his left leg, an injury that hurt both physically and emotionally.

“Soccer’s my favorite thing to do. So it was tough having to watch the team on the bench,” Ashton said. “I went to all the games still, but it was tough.”

After surgery to implant a plate onto the broken bone, Ashton got tough with his rehabilitation. What Fletcher called “a really aggressive rehab” allowed Ashton to return in time for the Mustangs’ playoff opener against Traip Academy — which they lost to end an unbeaten season up to that point.

“He was a shell of himself. He wasn’t the same player, and we did play that game without Avery, too. So without those two, that cost us dearly,” Fletcher said. “That was a team that we felt could have competed for a state title, and we didn’t live up to it.”

“It sucked,” Ashton said. “We couldn’t really do anything because we were down other men from cards and stuff, and then I couldn’t be my best out there.”

Things went from bad to worse for Ashton. The titanium plate in his leg ended up breaking, meaning a second surgery was needed. He also dealt with an infection, and a third surgery 10 weeks ago, and only just got back to walking and running a month ago.

Ashton said all that his body has gone through has taken a toll on him. And to add insult to injury, he has been nursing other — minor — injuries this preseason.

“Now all these other injuries are small compared to that, so I guess it makes it easier to push through all these other things,” Ashton said.

Fletcher has made sure that he keeps the reins on Ashton this preseason, and even early into the regular season. He is counting on Ashton, now a senior, to be a big part of the team.

“I want to make sure that he doesn’t overdo it too quickly. I want him to ease into this,” Fletcher said. “I talk with the trainers regularly and (assistant coach Russ Neal) will also help me, remind me, ‘Make sure Nate’s healthy.’ So we’ll take it upon ourselves to make sure that we don’t allow him to overdo it, because he will try to overdo it, because he’s got that desire to get out there and get after it.”

When Ashton does get back in full, he’ll be the man in the middle for the Mustangs, moving from forward to midfield, where he asked to play and where Fletcher sees him as a fit.

“We’re going to have him play a center mid, kind of an attacking center mid,” Fletcher said. “He likes to distribute. We’re counting on Gabe Martin and Hayden Fletcher, Cam Armstrong and Cody Michaud to do the bulk of our scoring. He will score goals, but he’d prefer to distribute.”

Ashton likes what he’s seen so far from the team this year. He also likes that he can be a part of it, after all that he went through last year, calling it a “big eye-opener for me.”

“Like every single game, push yourself, because you never know when it could all end. I mean, I could go get injured and never play again,” Ashton said. “You never really know.”

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Nate Ashton, a Monmouth Academy senior, is back on the pitch after breaking his leg last season. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

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