Prep Football

Part of the football deal: Players get hurt

The pain from injuries can be more emotional than physical

Cedar Rapids Kennedy football players William McCauley (42) and Darren Clark (51) watch the end of the Cougars’ 34-0 win over Cedar Rapids Jefferson from the Kingston Stadium sideline Friday night. (Mike Hlas/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Kennedy football players William McCauley (42) and Darren Clark (51) watch the end of the Cougars’ 34-0 win over Cedar Rapids Jefferson from the Kingston Stadium sideline Friday night. (Mike Hlas/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — High school football fully returned to Iowa this weekend, and with it came the good things about it.

Family members showing up an hour before game time to watch their guys warm up. Students standing the whole game while everyone else sat. Players filled with nervous energy beforehand, knowing everything they’ve done all year to prepare themselves led up to this moment of truth.

Unfortunately, there’s another aspect of the game that isn’t good at all. Players get hurt. It’s always been true, always will be. It’s the accepted part of the football contract, one that is out of sight and perhaps out of mind until it happens, and then it’s a hard thing to face.

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Late in the first quarter of Friday night’s Kennedy-Jefferson game at Kingston Stadium, Jefferson player Johnathan Luten was injured on a Kennedy offensive play. It took a couple minutes before he could be helped off the field. He spent much of the rest of the half on a treatment table. Behind him on the other side of the fence, Jefferson students cheered and had fun. In front of him, his teammates and coaches were focused on the game.

Luten was sobbing at one point, as you would have been had you just suffered a knee injury that threatened to end your senior season after one quarter.

Eventually, an immobilizing brace was placed around his left leg and he hobbled to the sideline to rejoin his teammates. He was given crutches late in the first half, and used them to be on the sideline for the rest of the game.

“I think I tore my ACL,” Luten said, though nothing was certain at the time.

“It’s awful,” Jefferson Coach Chris Buesing said after the game. “The guy’s worked so hard. I know how special these Friday nights are, even when you’re on the wrong side of the score.”

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The J-Hawks absorbed a 34-0 loss. What Buesing told his disappointed players after the game is what you would want a coach to tell your child after a game like that.

“We’ve all got to be men about it,” he said, ripping no one. “In life, everything doesn’t go your way.

“It starts right here with me. I shoulder the blame for this. I’ve got to get better. We had two delay-of-game penalties that were completely on me.”

Then he insisted to his players that they had a lot of talent and can do many good things this fall.

“Heads up, stay together,” added J-Hawk junior Kenneth Moore.

Kennedy didn’t get through the game unscathed. Junior William McCauley was injured on a first-half punt play.

“I was running and pivoted on my right foot,” McCauley said while sitting on a bench behind Kennedy’s sideline as his team was finishing off its win. “I got hit and landed on my left foot.

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“It’s not confirmed, but it’s a torn or pulled ACL. I have an appointment Tuesday with an ortho.

“I was crying in the locker room. If it’s pulled or torn I’m out for the rest of the season, and I love this sport. There’s nothing you can do but just hope.”

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After the game, Kennedy Coach Brian White said six of his players have had season-ending injuries since last November, related to football or basketball, or something that happened outside of sports.

“I don’t know if it’s sports have changed so much since I’ve played that kids are so fast and strong now that their bodies are breaking easier,” White said. “I don’t know what the answer is.

“I know McCauley was in the locker room just crushed. He lives for this. But I know this: Kids bounce back. He’ll bounce back.”

McCauley watched the second half seated next to classmate Darren Clark, who tore an ACL the Friday before when Kennedy scrimmaged with Center Point-Urbana in Center Point. He said his knee “just kind of buckled.”

“It’s really sad,” Clark said. “Depressing. I was going to play every game. I can’t even wrestle this year.”

After shaking hands with the J-Hawks at midfield after the game, Kennedy’s players sprinted to the fence separating the field and stands and greeted fellow students, then enthusiastically did a chant including the words “It’s all year! It’s all year!”

In a quieter moment later, White said things that you’d want to hear if he were your child’s coach.

“We’ll never, never let a kid who’s hurt isolate himself,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is send them on their way.

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“McCauley’s going to be with us until the last day of the season. And Darren Clark, he’ll be with us to the end of the season and he’s going to have a role on our team.

“He’s going to wear his jersey, he’s going to ride the buses with us. He is in our family and that’s not going to change.”

The Cougars have a 4x4 wood block that says “FAMILY” in block letters, and lists 16 things they seek, like unity, self-discipline and responsibility. The first thing listed is commitment.

“All our kids signed that stick,” White said. “They have given their word that they have committed to us. We commit to them, too. We are family.”

Some family members have it harder than others. McCauley and Clark slowly powered themselves off the field while their teammates were celebrating with their classmates. Luten slowly powered himself off the field as his teammates returned to their locker room. They have tougher tests the next several weeks than anything their football-playing friends will face.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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