SPRING HILL — Ty Cooler has overcome a great deal to stand as a leader on and off the field for Bishop McLaughlin.
A four-year varsity player, Cooler enjoyed two stellar seasons before pain started to take a toll on his performance.
Cooler was a key member of the 2010 Hurricanes squad that advanced to the Class 2A region finals. The young shortstop hit .365 with 21 RBIs and 27 runs scored, among the team leaders in every category.
His junior season, Bishop McLaughlin went 21-8, with Cooler hitting .426 with 14 RBIs and 33 runs scored.
But his struggles began at the tail end of last spring. Soreness in his lower back and hips began to increase in intensity. When the Hurricanes fell in the second round of the state playoffs, in what ended up being longtime coach Nick Rodriguez's final game, he told Cooler that he should rest the injury over the summer.
"I was at a real loss," Cooler said. "Rodriguez advised me at the end of last season to take some time off and rest it. But we didn't know what was wrong."
He took almost two months off and felt little pain. When the team began workouts in August, he felt fine the first couple of days.
Until he swung a bat. Then there was a twinge in his lower back.
"Honestly, I didn't think I was going to play this season," Cooler said. "It was the assistant coaches (Jim Globokar and Rene Lala) that really pushed me to get another look even though I'd already seen five doctors."
Cooler went to see one last doctor and physical therapist in Largo who showed him several stretching exercises. Since then, his back has felt much looser, and slowly, the pain began to fade. Over the past month, he has been pain free.
With new coach Tom LoSauro at the helm, Cooler's influence has been important in pushing the other players. So far, it has helped as the Hurricanes are 12-5, including eight wins in the past 10 games.
At the plate, the shortstop is hitting .393 with his first career home run, seven RBIs and 16 runs scored. He leads the team in all offensive categories, except RBIs. He has also stolen 14 bases in 17 attempts.
"The last month I haven't felt one ounce of pain whatsoever," Cooler said, "and I truly believe in what I'm doing."
Cooler has come a long way from thinking he may never play again. His play has garnered interest from St. Petersburg College and Hillsborough Community College, and if the Hurricanes can advance far this season, he may get more offers before it's over.
"To be honest, we have a very good chance of winning our region and making it to state," Cooler said. "Our pitching and defense have been dominant."