TAMPA — There’s still a lot of Green Bay in Gaither’s team captain. In the season’s chilliest stretches, he wore it on his short sleeves, even as peers piled on layers of Under Armour.
Jordan See, raised within a free kick of the original “frozen tundra,” knows frigid, and 40-degree feel-like temperatures aren’t it. Before moving to Tampa six years ago, See would park cars in his grandparents’ yard on Packers game days.
Then, if he could snag one of his grandpa’s season tickets, he’d make the walk over to Lambeau Field, lips turning blue before reaching the turnstiles.
“I just remember bundling up, just putting every piece of clothing you had on,” See said, “and you really can’t move once you’re there.”
Still, that’s nothing compared with the icy reception fate has afforded him this winter. In the past couple of weeks particularly, See — a sleek, skillful forward chosen captain by his teammates the past three seasons — has been playing out of his mind.
Yet he hasn’t physically been able to muster one celebratory Lambeau Leap. His aching hamstrings just won’t allow it.
Now that’s cold.
“It’s just been a nagging injury,” coach Eric Sims said.
One of the most valuable players of Gaither’s state tournament run also has been its most snake-bitten. In a two-week span in December, See hurt his right hamstring, then his left. Strain? Pull? See’s unsure. He’s not a doctor — yet. He just knows they’re a perpetual pain.
“The problem is, you need a good three to four weeks to heal it,” said See, an aspiring pediatrician who owns a 6.7 GPA despite a staggering advanced-placement course load.
“I would only get maybe a week off at a time, and you had to go play again. … The right one progressively got better, now it’s fine. Now it’s the left one that’s bothering me.”
Yet See (15 goals, nine assists) presses on, opting to hobble and grimace when it’s a matter of wince and losses.
“He’s been a big-game player for us, that’s for sure,” Sims said.
The proof is in the playoffs. He scored a goal in a 2-0 region quarterfinal win at Punta Gorda Charlotte despite not being able to sprint the last 20 minutes of the game, according to Sims.
In terms of valiance, See was just getting warmed up. In the next round against Naples Gulf Coast, the Cowboys were nursing a tenuous 2-1 second-half lead when Sims reinserted See, who had played only the first 18 minutes.
“I was like, we’re not going to lose the game with our leader on the bench,” Sims said.
Sprinting with a glaring limp, See chased down a long clearing pass just before it rolled out of bounds, muscled past a defender and sent a textbook cross to Steffan Siebel-Cortopassi for a tap-in goal in the waning minutes. Cowboys keeper John Nardozzi called it “extremely amazing.”
“It was literally on one leg,” Sims added.
Three nights later in the region finals, See scored two goals in a 3-1 victory against East Lake, including one on a breakaway in which he streaked past two defenders.
“He’s battling through it,” said Sims, whose team (19-4-2) faces Durant (15-7-2) in Friday’s Class 5A semifinals.
“I think with an entire week of treatment … I talked to him (Sunday) and he said it felt a lot better, so I think by Friday he should be good to go. But I’m telling you, man, his performance in the playoffs has been unbelievable. The goals he scored last week … were big-time.”
Each goal has been achieved against a perilous backdrop: See’s physical therapists and trainers have reminded him if he pushes the hamstrings too hard, he’ll tear one — or both.
Precaution, therefore, is paramount. Before Friday afternoon’s match, See will spend 30-45 minutes stretching “just to be able to play.” He may or may not pop an Advil. Afterward, he’ll stretch some more, then alternately apply ice and heat to both legs.
Who knows? If his hamstrings — and Gaither’s fortune — hold up, he may have the strength to salvage one blissful Lambeau Leap before it’s all over.
“There’s no way,” Sims said, “that he’s going to let me keep him off the field.”