Highland senior Trent Rakers remembers the play well.
The Bulldogs leading running back with 653 yards and nine touchdowns in just five games, Rakers was hit hard in the first quarter of the Bulldogs’ Mississippi Valley Conference game with Civic Memorial on Sept 30.
Rakers couldn’t get back on his feet.
“As I was going down, I felt my ankle roll a little bit, and there was a little pain. But it’s football. There is always a little pain,” he said. “Anyway, we unpiled, and I went to get up to my feet, and I knew there was something wrong. There was a lot of pain, and I had to go back down to the field. When I got to the sideline, I was hoping that it was just a bad sprain. It turned out to be much worse.”
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X-rays showed he broke his right fibula. His high school football career was over, and the senior season of one of the top wrestlers in Illinois was in jeopardy.
On Jan. 28, just short of four months after suffering the injury, Trent Rakers went 5-0 at the Mississippi Valley Conference Wrestling Super Duals. Those five wins made him 25-0 on the season and give him the most victories ever by a Highland High School wrestler.
Rakers broke the mark of two-time state champion Tanner Farmer, who is now a starting offensive lineman at the University of Nebraska. Farmer finished with 134 wins.
Two weeks later, Rakers is both a regional and sectional champion and will leave Thursday morning for the Illinois High School Association state wrestling tournament in Champaign.
Ranked third in the 152-pound weight class, Rakers will look to become Highland’s third state champion in four years this weekend at the State Farm Center on the University of Illinois campus.
“Really, I’m just more anxious than anything,” Rakers said. “I know what I’ve gone through this year with the injury, and I know how hard I’ve worked to get back to this point. I’m ready and looking forward to getting up there and wrestling.”
The rehabilitation process
Rakers still has a steel plate and a scar as reminders of his injury.
“I was pretty bummed out when I found out I couldn’t play football. Being a senior, and being out there with my friends all summer and doing everything we did to get ready for the year, it was tough,” Rakers said. “Then with wrestling, I knew I wanted to wrestle in college. The doctors told me that they thought I would be ready to wrestle by the postseason. They didn’t tell me exactly when, though.
“They told me there was a chance I would be back in late January. It all depended on how rehab went and how quickly I healed.”
At a tournament in Lincoln in late December, a nervous Rakers took the mat for the first time since the injury.
“I was very fortunate in that I had a physical therapist who was able to spend a lot of 1-on-1 time with me,” Rakers said. “I didn’t want to push it too hard and come back before I was ready. The first couple of matches were longer than what I’m used to, but that was all right. I was just happy wrestling.
“The second day of the tournament, it was better, and I’ve steadily gotten stronger and in better condition as the season has gone on here. Now I’m back to where I was before.”
On top of the bracket
Now 31-0 for the season after beating Rantoul’s Demarius Smith 4-2 in a battle of elite 152-pound wrestlers at the Mascoutah Sectional on Saturday, Rakers is on top of the Class 2A bracket going into his first-round match Thursday afternoon. Rakers was ranked third in the 152-pound weight class prior to the sectional meet. Smith was ranked second.
Highland coach Terry Ohren said the win over Smith was exactly what Rakers needed going into the state meet.
“I’m sure it was a big boost in his confidence beating a kid of that caliber,” Ohren said. “For what Trent has been through this year, it’s been sheer willpower and the desire which has gotten him back to this level.”
Rakers is considering both McKendree and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for college. He plans to major in pharmacy.