Nothing is guaranteed in sports, especially on the football field.
St. Joseph High School defensive back Ryan Williams tackled Highland Regional running back Johnny Martin for a loss on the second play from scrimmage of last Saturday’s 34-20 St. Joe win at Rutgers University.
Williams celebrated with teammates, but he felt a tweak in his knee as he slung Martin to the ground.
A few moments later, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Williams took a few steps and then slumped to the artificial grass because his knee didn’t feel right.
The 15-year-old from Bridgeton missed the rest of the game. He sat for much of the first half on the trainer’s table with an ice bag on his knee. Peggy Sacco, wife of St. Joe coach Paul Sacco, gave him some words of encouragement.
“I thought ‘Why me?’” Williams said. “I worked so hard in the offseason. Out of everybody, why me?”
Williams underwent an MRI on Tuesday. He won’t find out until the end of this week the extent of the injury, but it’s expected to keep him sidelined for a substantial time.
“We have our fingers crossed,” Paul Sacco said. “It’s tough as a coach. I put myself in his shoes, It’s a freak thing. It’s sad.”
New Jersey high school football is probably safer than it has ever been.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association instituted a rule this season that limits teams to 15 minutes of full contact — meaning tackling to the ground — per week.
The NJSIAA also has rules governing heat acclimation and concussions.
Football teaches great lessons, such as teamwork and toughness.
But the sport still involves bodies colliding at high speeds. There’s a risk every time a player steps on the field. Injuries can and do happen on the first play of the season and the last.
“It’s why we tell the kids (to) play each play like it’s your last,” Sacco said.
Everyone involved in the game — administrators, coaches, players, officials and even sportswriters — should understand these risks and continue to work to minimize them.
One measure I’d like to see is the elimination of consolation games for teams that don’t make the playoffs.
In 2019, with what we know about how physical football is, do we really need players taking hits and risking injury in meaningless contests?
Williams sounded upbeat during a telephone interview Wednesday night. The one positive is that he still has his senior year ahead of him.
“I was so mad,” he said, “but I looked at the bigger picture. This might be a test. I’m just going to work and stay focused on school. You can’t take things for granted. That’s the one thing I’ve learned.”
Michael McGarry’s Must Win column appears Fridays in The Press.