Injuries are part of football and each play brings that possibility, but when it does the suddenness can test the solidarity of even the most mature teams.
Just like that one of the state’s leading rushers or most efficient quarterbacks are withering in pain on the field.
Mountain Pointe has had it happen twice in the last month. Gone are junior running back Gary Bragg with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and senior quarterback Noah Grover with a broken femur in his left leg.
Grover’s injury came with just over 3 minutes left in the second quarter of Friday’s 48-0 win over Highland.
Suddenly sophomore Nick Wallerstedt was in charge of the huddle, calling plays for an undefeated nationally-ranked team.
“He came out calm and ready to go,” senior wide receiver Isaiah Pola-Mao said. “We will miss Noah so much, but it is on to the next person. Someone will get more on their shoulders and we have faith that someone will step up.”
Wallerstedt, who wasn’t made available for Monday’s media session, has only been eligible for two weeks after transferring from Corona del Sol. He played one half of a junior varsity game this year before playing the final two quarters plus last week.
The 6-foot-3, 173-pounder completed 3 of 4 pass for 38 yards and ran the ball three times for 33 yards while leading the Pride to their seventh win in seven games. Next up for top-ranked Mountain Pointe is a road game at No. 3 Desert Ridge (6-1) in a matchup that will likely decide the 6A Central Region champion.
“He did really well considering he really hadn’t played any at all,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “We have a week of practice. I’d like to turn him loose, but we don’t know. If he goes down then who do we bring in? I’ll know more by the end of the week.”
The other quarterbacks on the roster are sophomore Ahmen Williams, a Cesar Chavez transfer, and sophomore Conor Murphy, who was the backup before Wallerstedt became eligible.
By all accounts Wallerstedt has been impressive since joining the team after last season while running the scout team and taking reps with the first team.
The Pride, who moved to No. 9 in MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25, seemed to have embraced the ‘Next Man Up’ mantra many team have gone to during injury plagued seasons.
“We are still really hurt,” senior wide receiver Jaydon Brooks said. “Noah is our guy, but Nick can do the job. We had to feel him out a little bit. Then he popped one of their linebackers and we took off from there.”
During one of Wallerstedt’s runs last week he came across one Highland’s linebackers and bowled him over to gain more yardage. It was a moment the team needed to start the moving on to the next guy.
“That definitely woke all of us up,” Pola-Mao said. “We were bummed out because of Noah and he came in and hit the guy and we were ready to go.”
Mountain Pointe is hardly the first team to deal with injuries and had to over come. This week’s opponent has had their own forms of adversity when last year’s leading rusher decided not to play his senior year for the Jaguars and then a quarterback expected to see plenty of playing time decided to transfer the first week of the season.
“Most people would assume are chances are diminished and we were concerned about the (Desert Ridge) game when we had those guys so you can imagine our concern now,” Vaughan said. “I think team morale is going to be great, but I don’t know. It is one of those things that is hard to read.
“I do know we have some battlers so we are going to be ready to battle.”
The Pride’s running game, which averages 335.3, is still intact and the defense is considered one of the best in the state with its speed, physicality and play-making ability so they are more than ready for what lies ahead.
“We definitely have a chip on our shoulder still,” Pola-Mao said. “People are definitely doubting us now that we lost Gary and Noah. It’s the next person up and it is all about the system. We are going to play as a team, play hard and give everyone our best shot.”
It has been good enough thus far and the belief is it all will be fine on the corner of Knox Rd. and 44th St.
“We have another tough challenge coming up, but we’ve had some already,” Vaughan said. “We know what the challenge is all about. Are we going to be good enough to finish the deal? I don’t know.
“My concern isn’t this week’s game; it’s the end of the season and what it is going to bring. This is just a bump in the road on our journey. We have to overcome that and find a way to climb this mountain.”
– Contact Jason Skoda at 480-898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.
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