Lineman back from break Football: Atholton's Matt Pearce underwent six hours of surgery for a broken femur last fall, but a titanium rod, hard work, and love of the game have him playing again.

September 25, 1998|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

"I remember screaming out of shock, and then I went numb," Atholton lineman Matt Pearce said. "I landed on my stomach, and when they turned me over to put me on the stretcher, it was the worst pain I ever felt."

Pearce was describing his reaction to breaking his right thighbone (femur) during a game against Wilde Lake last Oct. 25. The injury happened in the second half during a kick return on a wet field. A Wilde Lake player slipped and fell on him.

"I was having my best game of the season with 10 tackles," said Pearce, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound tackle. He's a senior even though he's only 16 years old, because he skipped sixth grade.

Remarkably, Pearce has recovered from that devastating injury well enough to be playing football again this season, thanks to a titanium rod in his leg and lots of determination.

"It's a very tough injury to come back from," Atholton coach Kevin Kelly said. "Lots of kids wouldn't have, so it says a lot about him. He's going to have some pain, but he never complains and hasn't missed a game. I think he missed one practice. With that kind of stick-to-it-iveness, he's going to do OK in life."

Pearce said: "I'm sure coach Kelly didn't think I'd come back. I love playing the game. I didn't play my sophomore year, and it was so boring."

The reason he didn't play that year was that his father died on that July 4. "He always enjoyed coming out and watching me play," Pearce said.

Pearce's mother and uncle were at the game the day he broke the leg, and they waited through six hours of surgery to repair it.

"It normally takes 1 1/2 hours, but it was shattered in three places," Pearce said. He spent four days in the hospital and missed two weeks of school. He was on morphine and crutches for six weeks.

"My first day back at school I was in the weight room. I've lost speed because of the injury, but I've gained a lot of upper body strength, because I lifted more than I ordinarily would have." He bench presses 325 pounds.

Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall had broken the same bone during a snowmobile accident the previous year, so he knew the kind of pain Pearce was experiencing.

"The whole Wilde Lake coaching staff was great to me, and Coach DuVall came to visit me a couple of times at the hospital," Pearce said.

It was ironic that Pearce later worked the same job at Vantage House with the Wilde Lake player, Raney Holmes, whose slip caused the broken leg.

Pearce wanted to play baseball last spring, but coach Kelly, also the baseball coach, didn't think he was ready. So Pearce put the shot and threw the discus for the first time, becoming his team's top discus thrower.

Pearce is playing both offensive and defensive tackle this season because Atholton is short on players.

"I thought I'd have some fear when I came back, but I don't think about it," he said.

The fact he started last season helped alleviate fear, he said, adding: "After playing against Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake, I learned I could take whatever they dish out."

Atholton, although it has 14 seniors among it 20 players, appears headed to a losing season because it is undermanned. The Raiders have lost their last two games. The prospect of more losing doesn't enchant Pearce.

"That makes me wonder sometimes how crazy I am for coming back after breaking my leg," he said.

But his love of the game keeps him going.

"I was as happy as could be after we beat Northeast our first game. We have good coaches and, hopefully, we'll pull out of it."

Pub Date: 9/25/98

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