It was not an easy road to returning inside the painted lines for Raheeme Dumas. One year after going down with a season-ending injury, the junior corner is back and paving the way for the Fort Hays State University Tigers’ defense.

Dumas’ 2014 season was short-lived. During the Tigers’ Week 3 affair against Lindenwood, the experienced defensive back went down just eight plays into the game. He had already recorded 10 tackles and one pass breakup on the young season, but his ankle told him his season was done.

Dumas tore ligaments in his right ankle in that game Sept. 20, and received the news two days later. He was on crutches for two months, underwent surgery Dec. 9 and received the news he would receive a medical redshirt just one day later.

“Actually, I was still a little dizzy from my anesthesia,” Dumas said. “It was like the best blessing of my life to get another year.”

He returned stronger than ever and has made a drastic impact on the field this season. After a bit of taking some getting used to action in the first game of the season, Dumas came back and picked off a late interception in Week 2 against Northeastern State and returned it 40 yards — just feet shy of a Pick 6 in his first game in Hays since his injury.

He followed suit with a spectacular interception Saturday against Lindenwood. His four pass breakups lead the team and show his improvement in the past year, even though he hadn’t played an in-game snap in 11 months. He might not have been in the games, but he was breaking down and dissecting every aspect of the game while rooting from the sideline.

“I saw everything that I needed to see,” Dumas said. “I took mental notes with every game — I went to every game, didn’t miss a game, at practice, meetings, everything. I was still there mentally and I think it’s going to help me out a lot.”

It has been a long road traveled to becoming one of the mainstays on the Tiger defense. Dumas was a cornerback at Lakeland High School in Lakeland, Fla., but was moved under center as a senior when the starter was ruled ineligible, as well.

The transition was seamless for Dumas as he was named the PolkPreps.com large school offensive player of the year for 2011 and a Class 7A Third-team All-State selection, the largest classification in Florida. Under center he threw for 1,779 yards, rushed for 795 and totaled 30 total touchdowns, leading the Dreadnaughts to an undefeated regular season and the state semifinals. He did so on top of being an all-county selection at cornerback.

He did not have to sit out but one game before receiving reps as a freshman at Fort Hays. In his first game action against Washburn, the true freshman picked off a pass and took it 28 yards. He started nine games as a sophomore and the first three of his junior year without another interception but made his return known to the Northeastern State RiverHawks.

“It felt great,” Dumas said. “My last time getting an interception was my freshman year so it actually felt really great. It was a blessing.”

Head coach Chris Brown said seeing his improvement and comeback shows how much he wanted to get back to playing.

“He wanted to get back on the football field as well,” Brown said. “He did the things we asked him to do; going to therapy, taking care of it, strengthening it back up and he’s done those things. If a kid really wants to play bad enough he’s gonna take care of business and get himself back on the field.”

Brown also has noticed a change in habit from Dumas’ freshman year, when “it was tough to get him to do anything.”

“Dumas’ work ethic has just gotten better,” Brown said. “Now he understands for him to be good and be successful he’s gotta work. He comes to practice everyday, gets lazy in a few things but all you gotta do is snap your fingers at him, give him a quick look. … He understands that and gets back to work.”

His return has been a boost to one of the MIAA’s top defenses thus far, especially when senior cornerback Rashad Dunnigan, who played opposite of Dumas, went down for the season in Week 1, along with senior linebacker Justin McPhail.

With the thought this could have been his last season, Dumas is basking in the opportunity to try and lead the Tigers to their best season under Brown and back to the playoffs for the first time in 20 years.

“Now that I’m a junior again, getting a medical redshirt last year, it’s a little different because I’m still in the senior mindset knowing this could’ve been my last year playing,” Dumas said, “so I try to be a leader out on the field.”

With the road to recovery in the rearview mirror and Dumas playing the best football of his college career, he can’t help but feel blessed.

“It was a struggle. I was down a lot. I didn’t think I was ever gonna play again at first.,” Dumas said. “But I got surgery then I got my medical redshirt and that was all a blessing. I’m back on the field and I’m loving it.