MAYS LANDING -- When your son takes to the football field ... especially in this day and age, when all the players are bigger, stronger and faster ... you sort of know he's throwing caution to the wind. That sort of comes with the territory.
Still, it's a little bit disconcerting when your own flesh and blood gets his bell rung, so to speak. That's exactly what happened to Oakcrest junior running back/defensive back Joe Sprigg during the second half of the host Falcons' 23-13 come-from-behind win over Millville on Friday night.
A key component of Oakcrest's attack, Sprigg cut a disoriented, disconsolate figure on a bench behind his teammates in the third quarter Friday night. At the first sign of medical evaluations taking place, his father, also Joe Sprigg, headed down from the stands for a first-hand update. The prognosis was every parent's nightmare.
"He didn't even know who I was when I walked up to him," said the elder Sprigg. "There's a doctor down there from the Rothman Institute who says he's got a grade one concussion. He has to go home tonight and turn out the lights. He's not allowed to text or drive ... he has to get his brain back."
The injured player Spriggs' mom, Kara Spriggs, took the news in stride ... much more calmly than most, I would say. She was philosophical about the injury.
"He's been playing football forever ... since he was a little boy," Kara Spriggs said. "When he recovers, he'll be back out there."
Joe Spriggs the dad was even more emphatic. "Joey has no fear," he said. "He played a whole season with a separated shoulder, and he's broken his collarbone before. This is the sport he loves, and there's no way he'll stop playing."
One player who shows similar fortitude is Millville's junior running back/defensive back Alquann Jones. He was one of the night's best performers, even in a losing cause. But you could never call this guy anything even close to a loser ... he was so distraught after the final whistle that he needed a few moments to compose himself before talking.
"That was a tough one," the warrior Jones said, wearing his emotions on his sleeve. "Real tough."
As he tried to come to grips with a loss after his team led 13-3 in the fourth quarter, the Millville coaches did their best to rally the troops with some loud calls of encouragement. I get the feeling this team, which is loaded at the skill positions, will bounce back.
And then there's Oakcrest coach Chuck Smith, who has changed the culture surrounding the school's football program. I asked him if the fans will come along for the ride, and he said that forging that sort of community spirit was one of his missions from the get-go.
"But it takes some wins before they buy into it," Smith said.
Well, you've got one now coach, and it was well-earned.