It doesn’t feel like football weather yet, but the sight of shoulder pads and helmets, along with the clickity-clack of steel cleats on the concrete, send the message that the opening kickoff is right around the corner.
The guys who have been around a while know the drill, and they clue in the younger kids before some raspy-voiced assistant has to show up to do it for them — line up by jersey number and do your best to ignore the heat while the photographers get ready.
When the time comes, the Deacons file out onto the steamy field in their clean purple jerseys — this photo will probably be the last time those jerseys look so crisp with three months of grass stains and mud waiting right around the corner.
As they line up for the picture, doing their best to stand still in the overwhelming heat, a purple jersey is placed right up front, the white No. 21 popping off the purple background.
This jersey, the only one that won’t be collecting any grass stains this year, belongs to all-district linebacker Adrian Thacker.
“He was just a kid going to work in the middle of the day,” St. Paul coach Mark Palmer said.
But on his way up the mountain, Thacker’s vehicle collided with an 18-wheeler, careening off the road and down an embankment.
Thacker was thrown from his vehicle and sustained several broken bones from his waist down, but miraculously, he survived.
“He’s lucky to be alive,” Palmer said. “We was thrown from the car about 200 feet. The doctor said it was a miracle.”
When word of Thacker’s accident rippled through the town, his teammates were in shock.
Thacker had to go through some extensive surgery, and according to Palmer, it was touch-and-go in the days after the accident.
“(His teammates) went to the hospital, but nobody could see him,” Palmer said. “They just ended up sitting around the hospital.”
With the season right around the corner, things have improved. Thacker’s recovery is coming along ahead of schedule, but he will have to stay in bed for the next three months.
That leaves Palmer and his players trying to find ways to include Thacker as part of the team.
“We don’t want to exploit a bad situation for our own good,” Palmer said. “But we want him to be a part of the season.”
The Deacons are working on helmet stickers to be worn by every player and Palmer is planning on taking each game film over to Thacker’s house each Saturday so they can watch it together.
“I’m hoping at some point the doctor will allow him to come down to a game or two,” Palmer said.
But Thacker’s coach plans on discussing more than X’s and O’s as the two get together to rehash all the Friday night action.
Palmer plans on talking to Thacker about keeping up with his school work during his recovery.
But Palmer said Thacker has always been an excellent student, so that shouldn’t be a problem.
As a matter of fact, Thacker may have found his calling during this difficult time.
Thacker developed a friendship with the surgeon who helped mend him up, and now the linebacker has designs on becoming a doctor.
“He very well could go on to medical school and turn this into a positive,” Palmer said.
Now there’s an ending that would be nothing short of picture perfect.