Injuries are simply a part of sports.
Whether it’s baseball, basketball or hockey, or even gymnastics, high jump or rugby, participants are going to tear a ligament, break a bone or “pull a hammy” now and then.
It’s safe to say that especially applies to football, where by design, players continually engage in hard physical contact. Without question, it stands to reason that guys are going to get hurt on the gridiron.
But I’d say what’s happening this season regarding injuries and the Houston High School football team doesn’t stand to reason. Maybe it’s not unprecedented, but the number of players dealing with physical shortcomings is downright strange, and borders on eerie.
To put things in perspective, when the Tigers played last Friday at Thayer, there were seven guys in the starting defensive lineup who didn’t start on opening day, and five starting on offense who weren’t starters at the beginning of the season. And keep in mind, that’s not because HHS head coach Eric Sloan and his crew of assistants decided to promote or demote anyone, that’s because bodies that formerly occupied starting roles were no longer available.
Man, that’s a bunch of missing people! It’s mind-boggling.
To recap, the Tigers’ injury train left the station in week one of the season, when junior Dontae Pritchett, who Sloan has called “one of the best defensive linemen in the conference,” went down with one of those “don’t look at it” kind of ankle afflictions.
As the days progressed, senior lineman Chris Cichon succumbed to a leg injury that kept him off the field for a while. That was a huge blow, as Sloan and other coaches have called Cichon the Tigers’ “energy leader,” indicating that when he’s on the field, the whole team has a way more positive and energetic vibe. He was actually back in the lineup at Thayer, but many of his teammates were obviously sidelined.
Over the past couple of weeks, the injury vortex has become more active and sucked in several more important pieces of the Tigers’ puzzle.
There’s sophomore running back and linebacker Bailey Hurst, who was proving to be a player capable of performing beyond his years before a herniated disc and concussion took him out.
There’s junior lineman, kicker and sometimes ball carrier Trevor Mitchell, who, like Cichon, represents far more to the Tigers than just a guy to fill up a uniform. But with a bad knee, he won’t soon be filling one.
And there’s senior Tristan Leier, who in a rare year of playing football has been an important element in Houston’s efforts on both sides of the ball. But with a touchy rib situation, Leier is out for the time being.
And of course, there’s senior lineman and linebacker Devin Wallander, who after suffering a hip injury last Friday, became the most recent HHS player to assume the all-too-familiar position of lying flat on the grass near midfield.
The list goes on and on, and includes more integral parts to the Tigers’ machine. And as Sloan has pointed out on multiple occasions, this isn’t a team with enough depth to easily absorb so many personnel losses. On the contrary, each time someone goes down, a roster already thinly populated with age and experience is taxed in a way that can’t be solved by simply bringing in a prepared backup.
Nope, in this case many of the backups have already been forced to fill in at positions they weren’t previously familiar with. It’s really quite amazing, no matter how you slice it or dice it.
Someone asked me if I thought conditioning was a problem for the Tigers. I said no, because that wouldn’t account for the sheer volume of injuries, let alone the variety.
No, I think it’s more a matter of luck, and if not for the bad kind, the Tigers wouldn’t have any.
Anyway, HHS assistant coaches Jake Brookshire and Boulder McKinney have both brought up the positive aspect that all the injuries are allowing lots of young guys to get game situation experience they wouldn’t otherwise get. And both said it’s all about avoiding panic or pouting, and players truly focusing on a “next man up” mentality.
By default, that’s all that’s left at the moment, and guys would be wise to follow that lead. To me, it at least represents chances to learn how to deal with adversity and build a little extra character right along with taking advantage of that unexpected on-field experience.
Sloan recently said he wished he could know again what it’s like to play with a “full deck of cards.”
No doubt. He’s not getting dealt many good hands with the partial deck he’s been playing with.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.