For the second year in a row, the Highland Bulldogs football team must find a way to carry on after an injury to one of its top players.
Highland lost running back Andrew Winning to a knee injury last season and on Friday night lost top rusher and scorer Trent Rakers to a broken right fibula on the first offensive possession against Civic Memorial.
Rakers leads Highland (5-1) with 653 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. Ironically, he was the replacement for the injured Winning last season.
“Unfortunately his season is done,” said Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke, whose team plays host to Mississippi Valley Conference rival Triad (5-1) at 7 p.m. Friday. “He ripped off a 10-12 yard gainer off the left side and he was tackled to the ground, then another defender landed on top. His foot was on the ground and his knee was off the ground, it kind of gave way.”
Losing Rakers hurts the Bulldogs on both sides of the ball since he was also a starter at inside linebacker.
Injuries haven’t been kind to the Bulldogs in recent seasons. Three years ago it was star quarterback Logan Geiger suffering a broken collarbone in a second-round playoff game.
You can sit there and pout and cry about it, but at some point you’ve got to think your luck’s going to change for the better. This isn’t a group that’s feeling sorry for themselves.
Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke
Last year Winning was lost with a knee injury and now Rakers is out for the season.
“Mostly I feel for the individuals,” Warnecke said. “Everything’s always team, team, team, but when something like this happens your heart goes out to these kids that put so much into these teams.
“With Trent, I can’t think of a better athlete or a better person that I’ve ever coached than this young man. His character and unselfishness ... he’s a top-notch kid. He’s the valedictorian at the top of his class. He’s everything you’d want your own kid to be, so that makes it even tougher.”
Rakers is also one of the region’s top wrestlers and he finished fourth in the 160-pound class last year at the state tournament. He is hoping to be able to return for wrestling.
Warnecke said sophomore Brady Feldman, who ran for 61 yards on 24 carries in the 26-21 win over Civic Memorial, will replace Rakers in the backfield.
Feldman has 275 yards and five TDs on 50 carries this season along with seven pass receptions for 138 yards and one TD.
“It is what it is,” Warnecke said of the latest injury to a top player. “You can sit there and pout and cry about it, but at some point you’ve got to think your luck’s going to change for the better.
“This isn’t a group that’s feeling sorry for themselves It’s been our motto the last couple year and that’s been especially true for this group. “
Highland might get some good news on the injury front later this week if senior quarterback Garrett Marti is able to return from a ribcage injury. Warnecke said through therapy and continued healing there is a chance Marti can play Friday.
Marti, who missed the last two games, was one one of the team’s top offensive sources when healthy. Through four games he completed 61-of-93 passes for 853 yards and four TDs while running for 344 yards and five TDs.
Sophomore receiver Sam LaPorta stepped in for Marti at quarterback in the last two games.
“We’re going to see how it goes,” Warnecke said when asked about the potential for Marti’s return. “If there’s any game to come back this would be the game, but we’re not going to be put him out there at 65-70 percent when we’ve got Sam LaPorta out there.
“If (Garrett) can be around 90-95 percent, we’re going to try to give it a shot.”
To fill Rakers’ linebacker spot on defense, Warnecke indicated he may turn to sophomore fullback Brayton Moss or juniors Sebi Wolf or Noah Schmitt.