With much excitement for the 2019 football season, the team never expected to face several injuries the team would later have to overcome. The coaching staff and players have spent time ever since midseason trying to adjust to not having their injured players on the field.
“It is always unfortunate to have a bunch of injuries in a football season, but I am really excited to see how our kids step up and rise to the occasion,” said Varsity Head Coach Vince DeFrancesco, who did not have an exact count of the injuries at the time of the interview.
Because the injuries varied in terms of intensity from sprained ankles to broken bones, the team was influenced by how long the players would be out. Whether an injury left a player out for a few weeks to the whole season, the coaches had to adjust to how the non-injured players would play without some of their best teammates.
“It has been more of a ‘next man up’ mentality, like who is up and let’s get them coached up and ready to go since we don’t have time to sit and think about the injuries as the season goes on,” DeFrancesco said.
For example, senior Drake Morton, a linebacker and a running back, and senior Jemorrian Gordon, corner, had back-to-back injuries and had to have surgery.
During the homecoming game on Sept. 20– what he identifies as one of his best games of his football career– Morton was running the ball when he was tackled by a Waukegan High School player, leaving him with an injury of a broken tibia and fibula, a dislocated ankle and many torn ligaments.
“At first when I was laying on the field, I thought I’d be able to walk it off, but once I looked up, I realized it wasn’t going to be that easy,” Morton said.
On Sept. 27, Gordon experienced his own injury during the game against Zion-Benton Township High School as he also got tackled by a Zion player. Gordon ended up sitting out the game on crutches, and the next day he went to the doctor to learn he had a broken ankle.
On the other hand, players like Junior Alex Wing, kicker and outside linebacker, had injuries that only momentarily questioned whether or not they’d be able to play. Wing obtained a spiral fracture in his metacarpal bone that left him in a cast for four to six weeks, but he still was able to play with the correct protection on his hand.
“Anytime you have an injury to any one player, it changes the dynamic of the team,” Wing said. “Our coaches have done a good job in coaching all of us and keeping us focused and excited to keep playing.”
Since Morton and Gordon couldn’t play for the rest of the season, they soon pointed their focus toward supporting the football program– even from the sidelines.
“The team is working hard to find a way to push aside the injuries and find a way to work around them,” Morton said.
While the players recover, they help the uninjured with their drills and plays at practice or during the game, and they offer advice based on what they see on and off the field.
“All summer and during this season our coaches have drilled the sense of finding a way to deal with adversity,” Morton said. “This provides opportunity for many players to experience dealing with an injured player’s role and stepping in for them.”
Morton also said while the injuries have had an impact on the team and every player matters, “the team is adjusting well to bringing in more guys to fill in a big role.”
Wing expressed a similar thought.
“We have a good group of guys who have stepped up big time,” he said. “They have been training and practicing to step up and fill a role. While [we] wish to be uninjured and have guys back on the field, we know all we can do is support our teammates while recovering fast and taking care of ourselves.”
Team members have expressed disappointment in not being able to finish the season with the injured players, but the players have also had to learn to change their mentality to playing with their injured teammates in mind. The ones who can play have set their mindsets to playing for those who aren’t able to.
Despite the injuries, the coaches and players said they were happy with the way their team has grown in the face of adversity by staying unified.
“Our motto this year is ‘it’s our time,’ and when we win, we win as a team; when we lose, we lose as a team, and when we get hurt, we hurt as a team,” Wing said. “But that doesn’t stop us from having each other’s back and looking forward to getting back in the game.”
Leadership has also been a goal for the season, and the coaches and players also said the team has succeeded in this area.
DeFrancesco said, “Honestly, I still feel good with the depth of our program, so I am excited to see how we rise up, and again the coaches have been focused on getting our kids ready to go for the game.”