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Injuries can damage college recruiting hopes for high school football players

The scars on the knees of Mitchell running back Ricky Trinidad and Pinellas Park quarterback Jesse Hevia represent what could have been, not-so-subtle reminders of devastating injuries that ended their high school careers.

Now both seniors find themselves in limbo, stars trying to gain some semblance of what they used to be in hopes that interest from colleges again comes their way.

"It's been frustrating," Trinidad said. "I'm the type of person that doesn't like having my future hanging in the air. I knew the injury was going to affect my status. College coaches aren't always loyal to their commitments. They have a job, and they can get fired at any time. They had to go with their choice, and I have to make mine."

Trinidad and Hevia tore anterior cruciate ligaments within a week of each another.

Trinidad tore his left one Sept. 17 against Clearwater Central Catholic. He had offers from Division I-AA Georgia Southern and Youngstown State at the time, and he hoped a big season would garner interest from I-A schools. He was well on his to doing that, averaging 20 yards a carry with seven touchdowns.

But the injury dashed those hopes.

Georgia Southern pulled its offer in December, and Trinidad said he has not heard from Youngstown State in several months. He visited Division II Nebraska-Kearney this weekend. And he orally committed Sunday, former Mitchell coach Brian Wachtel said.

A week after Trinidad went down, Hevia tore his right ACL.

In that moment on Sept. 24 against Northeast, Hevia went from the peak of his career to the abyss. He had thrown for more than 500 yards and no interceptions in four games and hoped to continue impressing scouts.

Instead, he endured surgery and several months of rehab to heal the 1½-inch ribbon of tissue that stabilizes the knee.

"I'll admit the first thing I thought about was how this was going to affect me with scholarships," Hevia said. "I had some pretty strong interest from schools, mostly Division I-AA and Division II. All I had to do was have a decent senior season. The only thing I couldn't do was get injured."

Once Hevia was sidelined, the phone calls stopped. There were no letters. No coaches visited.

"It was like Jesse had died," Pinellas Park coach Kenny Crawford said. "There was nothing. He didn't exist in the eyes of colleges anymore.

"That's the brutal side of this game. There are no more stories of coaches holding scholarships while someone donates a kidney. It's a business. And it can be a cruel one."

Hevia is waiting for his first offer. He said he might walk-on at USF, the only school that has kept in contact.

"The hardest part is waiting to know where you might play and go to school," he said.

Some players have secured their future despite injuries.

Armwood receiver A.J. King tore his right ACL on the same day as Hevia — 11 days after orally committing to Purdue.

The scholarship offer stands.

"Thank goodness A.J. made enough plays his junior year to get enough on tape and show colleges what he can do," Armwood coach Sean Callahan said. "He's a good kid with good grades, and I'm happy that a college stuck by him."

Two years ago, former Lakewood star JaQuez Jenkins tore the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during the regular-season finale. He had already committed to USF, and the offer was still there after the injury.

Jenkins recovered and saw significant time at defensive back this past season.

USF coach Skip Holtz said there are different factors coaches look at when evaluating an injured player, the biggest being if a player has already committed to the school.

"When a man gives you his word, you have to ask how much are you going to honor your word. It's your bond," Holtz said. "It's very difficult to go back on your word when someone is injured. Now if a young man is uncommitted and is injured, you may need help right away at the position and see that he won't be able to do that."

Trinidad and Hevia are still working out, trying to strengthen their knees — and chances — of playing in college. Both should be cleared by doctors to resume running in March.

"I had to really be more active in selling myself to schools," Trinidad said. "I've been working, and the knee is responding well. I had to reassure colleges that my leg was coming back strong. I feel like I can still play at a high level in college."

Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report. Bob Putnam can be reached at putnam@sptimes.com.

Injuries can damage college recruiting hopes for high school football players 01/23/11 [Last modified: Sunday, January 23, 2011 8:59pm]
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