Don't expect Ridge View quarterback Jalen Perry to hold an anniversary celebration when South Pointe comes to town Friday night.
He'd like nothing better than to forget what happened a year ago against the Stallions in Rock Hill. On a cold, wet October night, Perry took a hit on his lower right leg during a scramble for a fumble that could have ended his playing career as a high school junior.
When Ridge View coach Raymond Jennings ran onto the field to check on Perry, who was screaming in pain, he had one thought upon seeing the leg:
"Joe Theismann," he said.
Theismann is the former Washington Redskins quarterback whose playing days came to a halt on a sack by the New York Giants' Lawrence Taylor in a 1985 "Monday Night Football" game. The replay of the injury, which showed in gruesome detail Theismann sustaining a compound fracture to his leg, remains an iconic moment for football fans.
Perry knew his injury was serious. Jennings knew it, too. Most importantly, Ridge View trainer Sean Hoppe knew it. Realizing that he was dealing with a compound fracture, Hoppe began to stabilize the leg and put an emergency plan in motion along with South Pointe trainer Mindy Best.
"You've got to take control. If you don't get to work and do what you've got to do, he's the one who suffers. There's an expectation of care for the kids," Hoppe said. "I knew it was bad. It's an emotional thing. Only a few times in my career - 13 years - have I been ... "
He paused and let out a deep breath.
Making the situation more difficult was contending with the pouring rain.
"You kick into emergency mode when you have an injury of that severity. It was raining like the dickens, so it was not an optimal situation to have that kind of injury," Best said. "You don't see it very often, but you train for it so you can stay on top of it in a situation like that. You go into professional rescue mode."
Jennings knew he had to keep his cool, too. He got his players away from Perry so the medical personnel could work, and he did his best to comfort his quarterback. It helped that Perry's father, Kerry Hayes, serves as a volunteer assistant for the Blazers, so he was there for his son.
"When I got there, I tried to keep him calm and hold his hand while Hoppe and those guys did what they do," Hayes said. "I didn't want him to panic. I was telling him everything was going to be all right. I was trying to keep him from looking at it."
He didn't have to worry about that. Once Perry saw the blood in his sock, he didn't want to see any more.
"I didn't even look at my leg," he said "I just knew it."
Upon Perry's arrival at the hospital, surgeons went to work to install a rod in his leg so the fractured bone could begin to reform around it.After the surgery, Perry had one question for his doctor.
"I asked him, 'Am I going to be able to play again?'"
At that stage, the answer was maybe. It was a question that only could be answered by time - and by Perry.
A long road of rehabilitation awaited. How hard Perry was willing to work and how the leg responded to rehab would provide the final answer.
Hoppe had a good idea, however, especially after seeing how Perry handled the situation while on the South Pointe turf.
"You want to talk about a tough kid?" Hoppe said. "He's one of the toughest kids I've ever dealt with - in a good way as far as being mentally tough and physically tough."
Jennings certainly hoped Perry would be back, and not just because he knew how much his quarterback wanted to play his senior season so he could earn the opportunity to play collegiately.
Jennings knew how much the Blazers needed him.
Ridge View was 3-4 heading into the South Pointe game, which it lost 42-0 to the eventual state champion, and the Blazers finished 3-9 without him. Perry had thrown for 899 yards and 10 touchdowns before the injury.
"He's my quarterback," Jennings said. "He's my leader."
That came through loud and clear when Perry approached his rehab like he approached football.
As he made the transition from a wheelchair to crutches to walking, he dedicated himself to working as hard as he could, sometimes to his father's concern that he was trying to do too much too soon. Slowly but surely, he kept doing what his body would allow.
Progress wasn't immediate, but it was steady.
As spring drills approached at the end of the school year, Jennings was ready to see the progress. He estimated Perry's movement at 60 percent and didn't allow him to get hit, but he could see the improvement.
Once Perry received clearance to go full speed, Jennings began to push his player during summer drills. Perry was ready to be pushed, from the speed work to the weight-lifting.
Yet nobody would know exactly where he stood until that first real hit, something that made Perry's teammates and coaches far more nervous than it did him.
In the first scrimmage, against Beaufort, that moment came quickly on a roll-out play. The coaches were telling Perry not to run the ball, but he took off anyway and collided with a linebacker.
"I get up, and everybody was yelling at me, 'You're not supposed to run, you're not supposed to run.' But I wanted to get hit to see how strong my leg was really," Perry said..
Although Hoppe admitted, "I was jumping through my skin," he realized the play's significance. "He had to get confidence in that leg."
Perry conquered his doubts by realizing he didn't feel any differently then he did the year before.
"By the first game, I didn't even have pain in my leg anymore. Now I don't even think of myself as (having been) injured," he said.
With the first test passed, Perry plowed ahead. Seven games into the season, Perry has shown he is back - even though the rod remains in his leg. He plays with the same fire and abandon he always had. Jennings now feels as comfortable as his player does.
"After the first game, I wasn't worried," he said.
Neither was the trainer.
"You watch him play the first three or four games and you wouldn't have know he was ever hurt," Hoppe said. "I don't worry about him one bit."
A young and inexperienced Ridge View team has struggled, even with Perry back at the helm. The Blazers are 2-5 despite Perry completing 70 of 149 passes for 1,051 yards and eight touchdowns.
With South Pointe next up, it's going to be tough for Ridge View to make the playoffs. But the 5-foot-11, 196-pound Perry still has hopes of playing in college if he can convince recruiters his leg is fine and if he gets his academics in order. A versatile athlete, he's not hung up on playing quarterback at the next level.
"He deserves to play college football. He's the toughest quarterback I've ever been around. He doesn't worry about fear," Jennings said. "He's just got to do what he needs to do on the field and in the classroom."
To college coaches with doubts about his leg, Perry finally has the answer:
"Look at me play."