PROSPECT PARK >> Matt DiSands and Brett McLaughlin wore street clothes in the hallways of Interboro High School on a dreary Wednesday afternoon.
Across the hall and in the gymnasium, their teammates prepared for one of the biggest games of their high school careers. Friday night, the top-seeded Bucs host No. 2 Pottsgrove for the District 1 Class 4A championship.
“I mean, I want to be out there,” DiSands said, “but there’s nothing I can really do about it.”
DiSands, a senior wide receiver/defensive back, is one of the team’s best playmakers. A steady and reliable receiving target, DiSands also had his share of big moments on defense, recording five interceptions in fewer than eight games. McLaughlin, a junior offensive lineman/linebacker, was one of the team’s unsung heroes, garnering praise from coach Steve Lennox for his gritty, hard-nosed approach. Both are the embodiment of the “Buc way” of playing football.
The reality has sunk in that neither DiSands nor McLaughlin will suit up and play football again in 2016. Both were injured during a Week 8 slugfest at Glen Mills, never to return to full health.
McLaughlin was knocked out with a serious shoulder injury while going in for a tackle. The official diagnosis came later, when it was determined that McLaughlin had suffered a muscle tear.
“It was the Glen Mills game. They have that good running back, No. 3 (Quadir Gibson),” he said. “I went to go fill the hole and I had my head on the wrong side. I went in and hit my shoulder and it popped out. They had to pop it back in on the sideline.”
The good news is that McLaughlin expects to be ready for the start of lacrosse season in the spring.
“I could get surgery, but I’ll probably wait it out and see what happens,” he said.
DiSands did something a little more serious, an injury that required immediate medical attention and, eventually, emergency surgery.
“I tore a muscle in my stomach that game at Glen Mills. I tried to get back in, but couldn’t,” DiSands said. “The next week was (Academy Park) week. I didn’t practice all week until Thursday. I was told as long as I could deal with the pain I could play, but I kind of did it again on a play. I hit the ground and did the same thing. But this time I got a hematoma in my stomach and I started bleeding. That’s why I had to get the surgery later that night.
“It was a scary at first. It was so close from either having surgery or no surgery at first, but I didn’t have an option now. With surgery, I knew I was done.They told me it has to heal and I have to wait six or seven weeks to come back.”
The wounds are healing, and so are the spirits of McLaughlin and DiSands. The initial wave of sadness and frustration has started to dissipate, ever so slowly, and the realization has set in that both players can contribute to the team in other ways. DiSands and McLaughlin mentioned that they are keen to giving words of advice and motivating teammates.
The most difficult part, they said, was not being available during the Bucs’ most memorable victories.
“Especially on Friday nights and game nights. It’s kind of hard to be at every single practice, but it’s still important to help them out,” DiSands said. “The hardest part was missing out on the Del Val championship, the first one (for Interboro) in seven years. Just playing in that game at all. We missed the most important games, that’s the toughest part. We got to play in a couple of games, but not the real important ones.”
“I was so excited when we won versus AP, but when I got home it sunk in that I didn’t play in the game,” McLaughlin said. “It was the first game I missed ever in football. It’s hard to get used to.”
McLaughlin and DiSands know their teammates are playing with them in mind. They’ll look to win a district title Friday night in their honor.
“The definitely care, but they have to focus on winning,” DiSands said. “They can’t just be concerned about us. We understand it. We’ve played when other guys were hurt, too. You have to keep focusing on winning.”
By their admission, McLaughlin and DiSands have had trouble feeling as though they are a part of this process. When you’re left with no option but to stand on the sideline, it’s a tough pill to swallow.
“It’s hard to feel like you’re a big part when you’ve missed most of the big games,” DiSands said. “In some ways you’re a part of it, but it’s hard not to feel that you missed the most important games. You’re there for support, but you still feel like you’re not there with your teammates.”
McLaughlin remembers seeing his older brother, Tyler, go through the same emotions.
“They won districts that year and he felt like he wasn’t a part of anything. He was hurt (most of) the year,” McLaughlin said. “He’s got the jacket but he’s never worn the jacket.”
Hopefully, for McLaughlin and DiSands, they’ll see what their coaches see in them. They are two good football players, invaluable to the program, who have set a great example for their teammates.
“Both of them are great kids,” coach Lennox said. “Losing them hurt. They are down about it, but they are great kids and they mean a lot to everyone.”