By Megan Walsh, GoHeels.com
Midfielder Cameron Brown's goal against Duke meant more than just pushing the Tar Heels to overtime against their Tobacco Road rival this season.
After two years of excruciating injuries, one after another, Brown has finally returned to the field in a Carolina jersey this season.
Although he is still not back to where he was before a torn ACL in May 2010 halted his career, Brown has been waiting for his name to appear on a score sheet for a long time coming.
"All the hard work and all the faith and the struggles and everything," Brown said, "as that ball crossed the line, all of that was gone and I was back."
But Brown's comeback stems from much more than just an ACL tear.
Although that's how his two-year playing hiatus started, Brown underwent five surgeries and countless hospital and rehab stays thanks to multiple infections, a cyst, a blood clot, scar tissue buildup and more.
"It was a difficult road," Brown said. "It was up and down. There were some ups, mostly downs. It was a tough two-and-a-half years. The hardest part was to always remain faithful and to always know that there was a light at the end of the tunnel."
Brown said his teammates were among the biggest help in keeping his faith - even when Brown had to withdraw from UNC and return home to Texas last spring to remain eligible for this season.
He also kept his optimism by staying tuned into the team during his playing absence. Brown never missed a game or a practice during the 2010 and 2011 seasons and was on the sidelines as the Tar Heels went to the College Cup in 2010 and won the 2011 national championship.
"He'll have your back right away," teammate Jordan Gafa said of Brown's bench personality. "He's the first one off the bench screaming at the ref or yelling at you to get back. That's the type of leadership you need from a guy on the sidelines when you're out for two years. He's there telling you he's with you and encouraging you.
"He was more like a player coach. I mean, he's a part of our family."
And that family couldn't be happier that Brown is back where he belongs.
"He provides something that really no one else can do," coach Carlos Somoano said. "He can get out of tight spots that very few people are able to do. I think as the season goes on I expect nothing more than him continuing to get better.
"The crazy thing is, as well as he's playing he's not exactly back to where he was before getting hurt, so he's still coming back and the nice part is to see him better each day."