One minute, Highland running back Andrew Winning was among the area’s rushing leaders and headed toward placing a large exclamation mark on his final prep football season with an undefeated team.
A hit to his left knee along the sideline last Friday against Waterloo brought a painful end to his season and showed once again the fleeting nature of high school sports.
“He dove at my knee on the sideline and it kind of bent right in,” said Winning, who had 803 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns during Highland’s 5-0 start. “It kind of popped. I knew there was something wrong, but I didn’t know how bad it was.
“It’s crazy how fast things can turn from good to bad on one play. I’ve been hit a lot harder than that one before. I guess that one did it in the exact spot.”
An MRI exam Thursday confirmed the ACL tear on Winning’s left knee. He will undergo surgery Oct. 21 and is expected to be sidelined for at least four months.
You don’t see it too often, but every time that kid touched the ball it literally looked like it was going to be his last carry. That’s how hard he ran.
Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke
Winning hopes to return to baseball, where he helped lead the Bulldogs to the Class 3A state championship last spring as one of their top players.
It was his dramatic two-run homer with two outs in the sixth inning that sent the Bulldogs to the state tournament with a 3-2 super-sectional win over Champaign Centennial. He was a second-team All-Area pick after hitting .426 with 28 RBIs.
“(The doctor) said that I should able to start running in four months,” Winning said. “He said about five to six months to playing again. I was hoping to make some magic on the football field as well, but I guess I’ll have to try it in baseball again.”
Highland took a 5-0 record and No. 9 ranking in the Class 5A state poll into Friday’s Mississippi Valley Conference football showdown against Civic Memorial (5-0).
3,168Final career rushing yards total for Highland senior Andrew Winning
Winning’s football career ends with 3,168 yards rushing and 47 touchdowns on 347 carries. Those totals include his freshman season at Mater Dei and the teams he played on won 31 of 38 games, with one of those losses a forfeit last season because of the Highland teachers strike.
His top season came as a sophomore when he ran for 1,401 yards and 15 TDs for an 11-1 Bulldogs squad.
“You don’t see it too often, but every time that kid touched the ball it literally looked like it was going to be his last carry,” Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke said. “That’s how hard he ran. I’m extremely proud of his willingness to compete at such a high level like he did.”
Warnecke got the bad news from Winning’s mother on Thursday afternoon and he asked her if Andrew could still come to the team’s weekly pregame meeting that night.
It’s crazy how fast things can turn from good to bad on one play.
Highland running back Andrew Winning
“It was pretty emotional,” said Warnecke, who admitted being plenty emotional himself when meeting with Winning before the team did. “I told them the news that Andrew’s high school career is done I think it sparked something in all of them. It’s our philosophy of ‘next man up.’
“We’re going to move forward and we’ve got three backs, including our quarterback, averaging 10-plus yards per carry. You just feel for a young man that puts in so much work. It stinks, there’s no other words for it.”
Winning said he had football recruiting interest from Illinois State and several Division II schools. He also had Division I interest in baseball from Eastern Illinois, Illinois State and other schools.
Warnecke said the main running back duties will go to junior Trent Rakers, a team captain who also starts at strong safety as one of the team’s best defensive players.
Rakers has 290 yards and four TDs on 29 carries and averages 10 yards per carry. Quarterback Garrett Marti has 289 yards rushing on 21 carries, averaging 13.8 yards per carry.
“Now it’s another opportunity where we can show people we can stand together as a team,” Warnecke said. “It’s not just Andrew Winning or one or two guys, it a collective thing and how much work we put in collectively that will help get it done.”