T.C. Williams High School senior Jay Whitmires football season came to an abrupt halt before it ever began with the sound of bones cracking.
It felt kind of like when you crack your knuckles, Whitmire said, describing the play that left him sidelined since August 26 with a sprained ankle. Then I was like, this sucks. I knew itd be serious, but I didnt think Id be out this long.
Despite the relatively minor nature of the injury, Whitmires been taking his time recovering. He left the preseason scrimmage for the hospital and doctors put his foot in a cast. A week later the cast was off and an ankle brace was on, but Whitmire still wasnt on the field. Doctors told him to work on his flexibility.
The waiting is frustrating for the star offensive and defensive lineman preparing to carry his career to the college level. Its as if his body is betraying him by not healing fast enough, he said.
Its pretty tough, because I feel like I could really help the team, Whitmire said. I dont think that if I were to come back early I would be able to play to that high of a level I want to be healthy for football season rather than come back too early and be slow the entire year.
Head coach Dennis Randolph can empathize. A former high school football player himself, he can remember sitting on the sidelines with a broken collarbone. Theres a separation anxiety all injured players feel, Randolph said.
You dont feel like youre a part of the team, the coach said. I sympathize with all of them. Football is so short; the career is so short. Jays missed half a season. Lets hope he can get back for the rest of [the season].
Whitmire is easy to spot, uniformed or not. The 6-foot-six, 285-pound lineman has stalked the sidelines, cheering his teammates on for the past five weeks, taking on a temporary role as a mentor figure.
From where hes watching, Whitmire can spot missed blocks, lost opportunities and critique his teammates performances though he admits overstepping his bounds when dispensing advice to the receiving corps.
A little extra-curricular coaching hasnt made the recovery any easier, but he makes sure his presence is felt on the field.
Ive gotten a little more used to it now, Whitmire said. Ive embraced a different role for the team, being hurt. I try to get everybody pumped up. When Im playing, Im focused on what Im doing.
Hes not the only person who has noticed the role change. Whitmire was visibly low the first three rocky weeks of his recovery, as the Jay-less Titans went 1-2, including a shellacking by Robinson Secondary School in the season opener.
Whitmires kept busy rooting his friends on, but hes not fooling anybody, Randolph said. Theyve had to drag him back from the field a couple of times, he said.
Jays out there cheering and talking about what theyve got to do, but deep down hes hurting that hes not playing, Randolph said.
Hes one of several Titans suffering from minor injuries this season. Broken fingers, sore muscles, MCL sprains just name it and theres a member of the T.C. roster sidelined with the injury.
Teams deal with adversity. The injuries arent an excuse for the 2-3 Titans up-and-down season, but its disheartening to see five or six guys on the bench that otherwise would start, Randolph said.
The worst may be over, though. Whitmires left ankle is back to nearly full flexibility and he expects to take the field on Saturday donning pads.
And then its back to what Whitmire does best: blocking and tackling.
Its just so tough because you work so hard to be with your team in the games and you just cant do it, he said. With the wins its OK, they dont need me, theyre doing good. The losses are tough.