Quick, what’s the toughest position to replace on the football field?
Some may think quarterback, running back, or maybe even linebacker.
But those who have been around the game longest won’t even flinch when posed the question.
Center is undoubtedly the most devastating area to suffer an injury.
Ashland’s Drew Walters, a senior
leader with Tomcat roots running deep within the family tree, was visibly overtaken by tremendous pain mere moments into the second quarter of Friday night’s game against Russell at Putnam Stadium.
As senior teammates watched their friend lie in pain, they knelt together in a circle on the far hashmarks of the field.
“We were torn apart,” said Tomcat senior Logan Salow. “He’s the key to our team, our leader. When he went down, it’s one of those things that sometimes can get you down and other times it fires you up. We just got together and said, ‘Hey, this can’t get us down. This has got to be what puts a fire in our butts and get us going.’”
Ashland responded in the right way, appeasing an antsy Walters, who constantly checked with his father, Phil, for text message score updates while at the hospital.
Ashland won 47-7, and while Walters returned from the hospital with news of a grim diagnosis — a fractured fibula, facing a few weeks of being sidelined to be sure — junior Luke Johnson filled in nicely.
“We hardly skipped a beat,” Salow said.
Said Walters as he stood outside the stadium on crutches afterward: “I’m glad to see them come together. It shows what kind of players they are.”
Walters was slated to be a captain for the matchup at Ironton next week.
His grandfather, John Paul Walters, is known as “The Toe” for a game-winning field goal he made to beat Ironton, 3-0, in 1950.
Phil also played for Ashland.
“We were worried about him,” senior Josh Ellis recalled spending those several minutes hoping and praying for the best as Walters was eventually carted off to an ambulance by his brother, who is an EMT. “Obviously, he’s a big part of the offense. Luckily we had Luke in there, who has had a little experience at center.”
Walters has high hopes for this year’s Ashland bunch, who is currently undefeated.
“This is the first time I’ve been on a team that gets along the way we get along. It’s been a special season so far.
“My goal is to get back out there with them.”
Ashland senior Jeremy Jackson, recently ruled eligible after transferring from Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, scored his first varsity touchdown as a Tomcat on Friday. It was his second game, as he played solely special teams against George Washington last week.
Jackson was at Ashland through his sophomore year before heading to Fork Union for 16 months.
“I learned a lot of discipline, it humbled me,” Jackson said. “I took some things for granted that I don’t anymore.”
Jackson played football there, but he said, “it wasn’t the same as it is at Ashland. Playing here is a tradition.”
During the offseason, Jackson said he made it a point to put work ahead of play at times.
“Sometimes to succeed you have to be willing to put in the hours by yourself,” he said. “Your friends aren’t always going to be by your side.”
Jackson looked in his first appearance as running back, and he hopes that wasn’t his last visit to the end zone.
“I want a touchdown every week,” he chuckled. “Honestly though, it’s about helping the team. If I make a block and someone else scores, that’s the same thing.”
Rewinding to ’72
The 1972 Tomcats were recognized before Friday’s game.
Seven players and coach Herb Conley were honored on the field.
Former players were Randy Elkins, Terry Fish, Wendell Fugitt, Steve Layman, Steve Justice, David Johnson and Kenny Rowe.
Tackling The Ribber
As promised to them by coaches, Ashland tackles Ellis and Johnson will be treated to a popular restaurant in Portsmouth this week.
Weighing in at a combined 500 pounds, a couple of big-eating customers will dig in at The Ribber in the next few days.
“Yeah,” Ellis laughed. “Coaches said if we did well enough and held them to a certain amount of yards then they’d take us there.”
I asked Ashland coach Leon Hart on my way out if they earned the right to “Rib” it up, and he assured me with a smile and nod.
Bring your bibs, boys.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.
Quick, what’s the toughest position to replace on the football field?
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