Helping hand

Mountain Pointe's Pride's AJWilliamson is carried off the field by his teammates after injuring his knee during their first round playoff game at Phoenix College.

By Darryl Webb, AFN

Desert Vista senior Matt Smith had surgery on his leg Friday while this team went out and played another winning football game.

Mountain Pointe seniors Dillan Johnson and A.J. Williamson came out of the final game of their high school careers with shoulder and knee injuries, respectively.

The Pride's R.J. Hollis shed tears on the sidelines, heading to the visitor's locker room and probably on the bus ride home from Phoenix College after a 28-3 loss to Brophy on Friday against No. 2 Brophy.

Each case was separate scenarios for different individuals on Friday, but the realization is the same on this first weekend of November.

Their high school football careers are over.

Nothing left to do other than turn in the uniforms, heal up in some cases, and get ready for the team banquet. It happens over and over again year after year and everyone deals with it differently.

From an outsider's point of view, you feel so much for them.

They are 17 or 18 years old with a lifetime of experiences and memories ahead of them, but it is so hard for them to see it at the time. Their emotions are so fragile and in most cases they don't always know how to express them.

"This is one of the hardest things I have ever been through," said Hollis, who carried Williamson on his back from the field since his buddy couldn't bear any weight on his injured knee. "Like I am going to tell my teammates, whether we were 14-0 or 6-5 I would give up wearing the maroon and gold for nothing."

In time they will realize they were part of something special, but some two days removed on this Sunday it probably isn't real clear just yet.

In the case of Smith, who broke his leg in the first half of the regular season finale, he has to watch the rest of the way, which might be even tougher than losing, as the Thunder attempt to make the Division I state championship game.

He will be at practice as soon as he is able to make it and support his teammates the rest of the way because that's who he is. He comes from a good, proud family and he knows that is what any respectable teammate would do.

But at the same time, my heart goes out to him.

Smith is one of the Thunder's best players and a leader. Should Desert Vista, which beat North Canyon 42-7 in the first-round game, go on to make its second state title game since 2007 it would be a shame that No. 5 won't lineup at cornerback because he is one of the reasons the Thunder have gone 20-4 the last two seasons.

At least, Smith, who might continue his career at an Ivy League program like Cornell, has a chance to celebrate a few more times with his teammates.

That's not the case for the Pride.

After making the semifinals the last two seasons, expectations were high coming into 2011 but probably unfair, especially after losing quarterback Kyle Faunce to a family decision to move back to Indiana just before spring ball.

But Pride coach Norris Vaughan doesn't let the Pride slide on much. He had won 10 games every year he coached in Arizona and it's a goal every year for him.

"We had a young team that made some mistakes," Vaughan said. "All in all, I don't want to say it was a success, but we made the playoffs and gave these seniors a chance to do something special. It didn't work out that way, but we had a chance."

Johnson felt helpless while sitting on the sidelines. He did so much for the team, changed positions twice and finished with more than 1,200 yards rushing.

He wasn't as emotional as some but that burning desire that makes him so competitive was put aside for a moment as he became reflective.

"The bonding during the games and seeing our teammates come together in the tough times is what I will remember most," he said. "We had some problems but worked our way through it.

"Stuff happens."

It sure does and watching it play out with these young men is not always easy.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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