When the Putnam City Pirates are huddled inside their large, inflatable helmet, Desmond Tilly is the loud one. A senior and an emotional leader, Tilly the one screaming at his teammates to get them pumped up for the challenge ahead.
Then the Pirates run onto the field, and Tilly walks behind, a knee brace supporting his torn ACL.
At Northwest Classen games, senior Terry Arnold is the one getting a little too fired up when his passion for the game and his team overcomes him — whether its from the frustration of a loss, or the agony of not being able to do anything to help.
Watch him walk, and you can scarcely tell he suffered a compound fracture in his foot a couple months ago.
Tilly and Arnold are full of pride for their football teams, but handcuffed by injuries, with no outlet to express that pride on the field.
Such is the plight of Friday nights lost.
Exactly what was lost on those Friday nights is hard to measure, especially in the future. Both players were in position, with a good senior season, to potentially make the jump to become Division I prospects. Now, they're left wondering what lies ahead in their football futures and what opportunities they might have lost.
The past is more finite.
For the last 10 weeks, they've lost the joy of being on the football field. They've lost nine football games, neither of them getting to play a single snap in their final year of high school.
On Friday, they'll each miss out on the opportunity to strap on the pads and helmet for one final time — on Senior Night at their respective stadiums — with other players who have become their brothers on the field and off.
“Not being able to help them really hurts,” said Arnold, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound receiver. “It hurts bad watching them lose. I feel like if I was playing, we could have had a better season. I could have helped the team. It's stressful.
“I tend to get into the game too much. The coaches have to tell me to get back. I try not to let the game get the best of me. I try to keep everything positive and stay strong.”
Arnold suffered a minor fracture in his foot during the summer, but he was cleared to play in August. Then, one week before the season began, he broke the foot in the same place, but this time, much worse.
He continues to work out and rehabilitate the injury, hoping to miss very little of basketball season.
Tilly's story had a couple more twists.
A 6-foot, 190-pound linebacker/running back, Tilly injured his knee in the closing minutes of a scrimmage in the final week of the preseason. Originally diagnosed as a sprained LCL, he thought he might not even miss a game.
But then, the diagnosis was changed to a sprained MCL, with a potential return in the fourth or fifth game.
Tilly even returned to practice at one point, but didn't play against U.S. Grant that Friday, with hopes of getting himself more prepared for a return against Del City the next week.
But one final check-up revealed the true injury, which hadn't been spotted before — a torn ACL.
He came onto the field for the Del City game with his orange cleats dangling around his neck, a symbol of just how badly he wanted to be on the field.
Del City had beaten the Pirates last year, costing PC a playoff berth. That game was the driving force for Tilly's offseason work. It pushed him. It burned inside him. And his teammates knew it.
“They wanted me to do something like that to pick their spirits up,” Tilly said. “I really believed that they played for me in that game. They all knew how badly I wanted to play in that game. It was a big payback game, and I loved the way they played.”
Watching these two players miss their senior seasons is just as painful for those around them.
“It's tough, because (Tilly) had such high expectations coming into the year,” PC coach John Wofford said. “But he has kept his head up. He's been an emotional leader for us. He gets the guys excited about practice, and he's great to have around.
“Some guys, when they get hurt, they're almost a negative to have around, but he's so positive and so good with all the other kids. But you can tell it hurts him that he can't be out there. It's sad.”
Northwest Classen quarterback Christian Gorham is always aware of Arnold's presence on the sideline.
“He could have been a big part in some of our games,” Gorham said. “I wish he was out there with us, so he could have been a part of our senior year.
“In games, he helps me see things I didn't see when I come to the sideline.”
“He just doesn't always want to hear it,” Arnold added with a laugh.
While the past is primarily an emotional loss, the future impact of their senior seasons is more concrete.
They lost the chance to show how good they've become as football players. They lost a chance to possibly guarantee themselves of a college scholarship and, with work in the classroom, a college degree, the benefits of which can't be undervalued.
Instead, Tilly and Arnold are working to show that they are still worthy of that opportunity.
Northwest Classen's Lloyd Smith is a veteran coach, having worked in different parts of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. The connections he has built with college coaches could help Arnold land at a good school.
Tilly has received strong interest from Central Oklahoma and he is still working hard with his coaches to make sure he doesn't get overlooked by other prospective colleges.
“I hope people don't forget about him,” Wofford said. “He's been a great player for us, and he was primed to have an even better senior year. I hope somebody realizes that and gives him a chance. He deserves it.”
The good news about Arnold and Tilly is that they've come through their situations emotionally stronger and mature, more prepared to handle the challenges life could bring as they get older.
And neither believes this has to be the end of his football career.
“When I found out I had a torn ACL, I didn't want to cry, so all I did was smile,” Tilly said. “All the coaches and players were feeling sorry for me, but I told them there's no reason to feel sorry for me.
“I don't believe it's over yet. I'm just getting started.”