EAST LAKE — It happened in an instant.
With 90 seconds left in the second game of East Lake High's football 2010 season, Jared Butts' knee gave out. Not again and especially this season, the senior middle linebacker thought.
But his wishes were ignored.
For the second consecutive season, Butts, 18, had torn his ACL, a ligament of the knee. Last year, his left knee was injured on the last practice before the first game. This season, it's his right knee.
Now Butts has been forced to watch his East Lake Eagles from just beyond the gridiron.
"It's definitely tough being a senior," Butts said. "Honestly, I was hoping I was going to have a healthy season because after this, I'm going to college. This is it. This is my last opportunity."
Butts just started four weeks of physical rehabilitation with the intention of returning to the field before the Eagles' last game. Until then, he attends every team practice and meeting.
On Friday nights, he shadows defensive coordinator Darius Holtzclaw and charts all the defense plays in addition to the number of yards the opposing team gains.
Butts also is cheering the team on and watching the player now taking his place.
"You are always watching to see if you could do better, if you could have made the play, if you could've stopped them from scoring a touchdown," Butts said. "But you never verbalize your thoughts.
"It's all about the team. I'm there for support, to be positive and to boost my teammates up. That's now my job."
Eagles coach Bob Hudson said injuries are tough, especially during the senior season. Hudson can relate. His senior year at Gulf High School in Pasco County, he broke his arm on the third play of the fall jamboree. He was done for the season.
"I vividly remember it because it changed my life," Hudson said. "Any opportunities I had to play in college diminished and it slowed me down and made me rethink my life."
Instead of going to college for football, Hudson went to Florida State University.
"I met my wife, I have kids," he said. "Everything happens for a reason and you just don't know it. But I feel for those kids because it's probably the hardest part of football, getting hurt doing something you love to do."
Dr. Michael Reilly of St. Petersburg, the team doctor for the Tampa Bay Rays, is a member of the Florida High School Athletic Association's Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.
Reilly said injuries like the ones Butts has suffered can have an impact beyond a senior year.
"Sometimes when you get more injuries when you're young, you're going to have more knee problems down the road," Reilly said Wednesday from New York, where he is with the Rays for their series against the Yankees. "When you're between 40 and 60, it shows up in the form of arthritis."
Just because Butts isn't suiting up with pads and a helmet doesn't change his importance to the team, said teammate Rocco Roefaro, 18, a senior linebacker.
"We tell him in school, 'Make sure you are at pregame' and he is," said Roefaro, a teammate of Butts since ninth grade. "Every play could be your last. You never know, so you have to play every play like it's your last. But it's not like Butts is not part of it, part of the team. He's just not on the field."
Butts has a 4.75 GPA. At one time, he wanted to play Division III football for the Coast Guard Academy, but the injury has squelched that hope. Now his plans are to attend Florida State University and major in engineering.
"This definitely builds character," Butts said. "Every time you get injured, you go through hard times. But you get stronger."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com or (727) 445-4174.