Next Man Up
Titans try to learn the lesson of Indian Chief King Phillip
DRUMMOND - Throw a rock into a pond and after breaking the surface, concentric waves ripple away from its point of impact. No matter where it lands, all of the water is affected to some degree.
The flint Creek Titans had a boulder tossed in their collective waters at the end of their season-opening win against Twin Bridges August 26. That boulder came in the form of a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) to star player, junior Mark Estes.
He was by no means the 'whole team', but anyone who has a hand in six scores opening night will certainly leave a hole when suddenly not part the roster.
The question is: How does one respond to that circumstance?
That question has had to be answered by Estes, his teammates and his coaches as they have moved forward to a 2-2 record through their bye week last Friday.
For Estes, the projected six-month time table to his return for track season appears to be nothing more than another opponent to go around.
"Hopefully I can bounce back and I didn't think it was ACL," said Estes of the night he injured his knee, "because I just didn't think it would happen to me, I guess."
Estes admitted to a little bit of depression when he got the official diagnosis the following week, but he didn't let that last for long. During the interview he made it clear that he is focused on rehab. But as the session progressed and his teammates began speaking, he seemingly focused almost as much on his teammates more than himself.
"It was going to be a big year," he said. "But I'm motivated to get back to where I was and even stronger."
Prior to the injury, Estes had already been on the recruiting radar of several colleges, including Montana Tech, Carroll, Montana State University and Wichita State. And despite the injury, they seem to feel he's young enough and healthy enough to make a full recovery.
Jim Oberwiser, head coach of the Flint Creek Titans, has seen these types of injuries before. Also serving as the Drummond's school counselor, he's had more experience than most at dealing with both his players and other athletes when a major injury occurs.
"I hope that I do," said Oberwiser of his comforting student-athletes in these situations. "And I hope that I do all the things that a person should do (in that circumstance). At the same time, we had a similar instance (several years ago) and (a colleague) told me 'The next time this happens, be sure that we're not only taking care of the injured, but that we're taking care of the rest of the kids on the sidelines.'
"It's an ugly scene to see. But the kids on the sidelines have to be able to physically and emotionally be able to regroup and move forward."
Oberwiser and his coaching staff prepare for such situations. At times during practice he or one of his staff will randomly pull players from activity, forcing the remaining players to fill the void and be the next man up to avoid the failures of King Phillip.
The lesson Oberwiser hopes to convey is that being a teammate means being ready to step up in whatever situation, regardless of the circumstance.
The tale is one woven by Oberwiser when teaching his history classes, where he speaks of the Massasoit Chief Metacoment. Named King Phillip by the English, his tribes had lived peacefully with the English until a Christianized Indian was murdered. Metacoment organized a massive revolt on his enemies to right the wrong, with his side suffering heavy casualties.
But when the chief himself is killed, there is no one to replace him. And so the movement dies with him.
The lesson Oberwiser hopes to convey is that being a teammate means being ready to step up in whatever situation, regardless of the circumstance. A lesson that the Titans had to grasp when Estes went down.
Andrew Gomez, Colby Manley and Colton Grange are three of the Titans who have had to fill the voids left by Estes. All three have multiple responsibilities and are close friends with their injured teammate. And despite the injury, Estes attends every practice and game when not in rehab. He's taken on the roll of coach, helping his teammates by explaining things to them from a player's perspective.
"... he (Estes) plays a huge role at the games in coaching. He keeps us in the game if we start to get down." ~ Andrew Gomez
"When we do something wrong, the coaches will get after us," said Gomez, a junior cornerback and the team's center, "and then Mark will step in and point out things from a player to player perspective. He understands what we saw out in the field (and can see it) from the sidelines. I would say he plays a huge role at the games in coaching.
"He keeps us in the game if we start to get down."
Grange has arguably had the most to absorb, stepping in at quarterback and having to learn a great deal more about the intricate workings of the game than he was previously responsible for at his wide receiver position.
"I have to know a lot more of the plays," said the sophomore QB. "I have to know where the offensive linemen are supposed to line up and what they're supposed to do in case one of them lines up wrong."
Grange has also had to learn to identify and read defensive sets, rather than just run through them to get open.
Junior Colby Manley was already a running back before the injury to Estes, but now shoulders a larger portion of the load along with teammate Owen Shields.
"He (Estes) forced us to step and I think. He's probably helped us more than we've helped him. He's been a huge motivational thing." ~ Colby Manley
"It was a shot to our gut," Manley added, "but it has pushed us to be better players. He forced us to step and I think."
"He's probably helped us more than we've helped him. He's been a huge motivational thing."
Like his players, the loss of Estes has forced Oberwiser to make player personnel adjustments to keep the Titans moving forward. Players like Grange, Shields and freshman Jackson Lee have had to mature faster than expected. It's a situation that while unpleasant, may pay dividends down the road.
"I think when Mark went out, people were like 'He was the Titans main threat'," said Gomez. "Now we're showing them that we have multiple, powerful players on our team that can get the job done."
Estes's injury will also send ripples into the winter, where Boys Basketball Head Coach Jay Allen was expecting the junior to his use skills to help the Trojans play deep into the postseason.
"Mark is a good athlete," said Allen, "But his not being there is going to help some of these guys enhance their abilities and make them stronger.
"I don't see this as the end of the world. We still have to go out on the court and play. We'll just do it with a group of guys that will get more playing time and become better because of it."
One player that Allen saw making strides in confidence and ability on the grid iron since Estes' injury is Luke Holland. "I think this last game (against Plains) I really saw his confidence grow and he stepped up and did the job. Things really clicked for him on defense as I think he's starting to see more of the game."
The Titans come off their bye week to face the Victor Pirates Friday night in Drummond for Homecoming 2016. The Trojan Junior High Team will start the day playing the Pirates at 3 p.m. followed by the Varsity at 7 p.m.