Vongni Yang, The Union Democrat

Brandon Reel's high school soccer career was derailed before it even began.

The Summerville Bear senior suffered a severe knee injury in eighth grade, and Brandon was told he might not be the same athlete he was pre-injury. He would need to sit out more than a year in order for his injury to heal properly.

"It was so rare that the doctor himself didn't know how to approach it," said Brandon's father, Dave Reel. "He actually pulled it away. Broke the bone loose. The ACL tore the bone away from the knee. They opt to let it heal instead of having surgery because he was still young."

But Brandon, who has always been a fighter, was determined to make a comeback and play for his father, who also happened to be Summerville's head soccer coach.

After being sidelined as a freshman, Brandon went to work and began rehabbing to return to form.

"He put in the time and rehabilitated his leg and got so strong," Reel said. "But it really set him back. For him to be able to do what he did and retrain himself how he had to play was big. He had to relearn how to do everything. He couldn't cut a certain way. He couldn't twist his body, or he would risk re-injuring his knee again."

And by the time Brandon's sophomore year rolled around, he was back chasing down balls and scoring goals.

Although he was nowhere near 100 percent in his first year of varsity play in 2011, Brandon, who had to wear a knee brace, netted five goals and distributed a team-high 13 assists.

As a junior, Brandon continued to excel despite often running with slight pain. However, his scoring increased to seven goals and he finished the season with six assists.

This season as a senior co-captain, Brandon enjoyed one of his best collective performances to date. As the heart and soul of the Bears, he tied for the team lead in goals with 10 and had four assists.

"He leads by example," Reel said. "He calmly talks to his teammates. He wouldn't ask for anything he wouldn't do himself. He doesn't typically like the glory, scoring goals and getting the assists. He likes to distribute and let others flourish in what they do well. He loves passing the ball."

With Brandon leading the charge and commanding the team, Summerville played top-flight soccer, finishing 12-4-4 overall and 10-1-4 in Mother Lode League play in 2013. The Bears finished behind only Linden for second place.

In Brandon's three years as a varsity starter, Summerville qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs each season.

"For a soccer player, especially with his size, he's the whole package," said Summerville assistant coach Shad Flores. "He's an all-around player. He'll work hard on defense. He can set up guys and he can score. He brings all of that to the table."

For Brandon Reel's outstanding leadership on the pitch and his ability to overcome adversity and nagging injuries, the senior midfielder isThe Union Democrat's2013 All-Area Co-Most Valuable Player.

"What he meant for our team to be successful was huge," Reel said. "When he wasn't in the game, the calmness of play was not there. The strategy in the middle was missing."

And that happened on several occasions.

In Summerville's lone league loss to Linden in early October, the Bears were nursing a 1-0 lead until Brandon was forced to leave the game with a knee injury.

Without their holding midfielder and creator in the lineup, the Bears could not control possession, and Linden went on to score back-to-back goals for a 2-1 victory.

Summerville was sorely missing its most intelligent and unselfish leader.

"He is not vocal in terms of loud," Reel said. "He's more directive and by example. He's our most physical player, meaning he's going to work hard for a ball and to keep a ball. He's just working his butt off out in center."

Brandon's importance to the Bears shined in an away match against Argonaut in October. The senior played some of the best soccer in his career, recording a hat trick and an assist in the Bears' 7-0 rout.

"This year he started to look more like himself," Reel said. "He's come back a little bit with his goal scoring. He still kept that precision passing and that creativity to open passing lanes for people. He makes others better by his calmness just a little bit more."

Sonora head coach Lloyd Longeway, whose Wildcats have faced Brandon three years in a row, took note of his skill and technique. In the Wildcats' 2-0 win in September, the Summerville co-captain was a marked man.

The Wildcats' game plan was to limit Brandon's touches. If they did that, their chances of winning increased. That was the type of respect he usually commanded from opposing teams.

"I told my guys, 'Keep the ball away from Brandon,' " Longeway said."When he had the ball, bad things happened for us. He definitely was that guy. If he had the ball good things were happening for Summerville. He played hard. He was always a good sport. He played his heart out and made some really nice plays."