Since Fred Wyatt became a starter at Free State High two seasons ago, football coach Bob Lisher has used many words to describe the senior. Monday morning, as the Firebirds’ linemen worked out at FSHS, Lisher called the defensive end and left tackle a coach.
That’s because Wyatt can no longer participate in drills, nor will he be able to play this coming fall. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound Northwestern University football commit found out late last week he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
“I guess that’s my new role,” Wyatt said, “helping out the coaches and giving my input, as well.”
The injury occurred June 8, when Free State was at Northwest Missouri State contact camp. During a scrimmage, Wyatt made a tackle and landed on his left leg. His knee popped and gave out. When he got up, Wyatt knew something was wrong, but season-ending wasn’t at all in his thought process. He visited a doctor two days later, had an MRI Wednesday and found out Thursday the “surprising and upsetting” news that he had torn roughly 75 percent of his ACL.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” Wyatt said. “I’m sure it will that first game when I’m not suiting up. I’m doing all right right now.”
Free State had big expectations for Wyatt, a force on both sides of the line, this fall. Lisher described Wyatt being unavailable as a huge loss.
“You don’t have very many Division I commitments on a team,” said Lisher. “He’s a two-year starter offensively and a returning starter defensively. That’s a lot. That’s really two starters you’re losing.”
The good news for FSHS is quarterback and safety Joe Dineen, a Kansas commit, leads a deep, talented senior class that includes linebackers Keith Loneker, Blake Winslow and Stan Skwarlo, linemen Tyler Sampson and Reid Buckingham and receiver Khadre Lane — all of whom helped the Firebirds reach the Class 6A state semifinal in 2012.
Wyatt already has received heaps of support from teammates and their parents since word of his injury spread.
“They’ve said they’re gonna win a state championship for me now,” Wyatt shared. “I don’t want that totally on me — I want them to win a state championship no matter what.”
The tricky part for the FSHS staff will be replacing Wyatt. Lisher said no definitive answer exists at this point, and the Firebirds will have to find a group of offensive linemen that work together best.
“If you were a guard before, you might be playing tackle now,” the coach said. “That’s what we’ve got to figure out.”
In a few weeks, Wyatt will undergo surgery. Then comes six months of rehab before he is back to normal. In the meantime, he’ll be with his Free State teammates every step of the way, cheering and coaching them on.
Wyatt spoke with Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who told Wyatt nothing has changed about the program’s interest in him. Even though football seems like a sad subject right now, Wyatt said he is trying to stay upbeat and Fitzgerald gave him some comforting words: “The positive thing is the next time you put on a helmet, it will be a Northwestern helmet and you’ll be playing college football.”