December 1st, 2010

Steffey Continues To Lead Despite Injury

Chris Jung

Senior Writer

Steffey Continues To Lead Despite Injury
photo by Dr. John Meyer

Trinity senior serving as student-assistant on the field

During a fourth-quarter, 40-yard touchdown run by Trinity running back Derek Bishop in the state football quarterfinals two weeks ago, Shamrocks senior wide receiver Ryan Steffey should have been celebrating.

He should have been mobbing his teammates on the sideline, reveling in another Trinity domination of rival St. Xavier. He should have been thinking about how much fun a senior-year Thanksgiving Weekend practice was going to be, as he and his teammates prepared for Ryle and the state semifinals.

This was supposed to be a magical moment. But it wasn’t.

Instead, Steffey tweaked his knee while executing an “alley block” on the St. X safety during the action, and then was inadvertently run into by a Tigers player as the play concluded. At first, Steffey says he thought he had a sprained knee – an injury that would have required a little rest and stretching at the most.

The news, however, turned out to be much worse.

Steffey suffered a complete tear of his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and partial tear in his medial meniscus in his right leg. That was the scientific terminology.

In layman’s terms? Steffey’s season was over, and more significantly, his high school career.

“It was obvious to see that (my teammates) didn't believe what had just happened. I could tell they felt for me,” said Steffey. “As I walked off the field, Grayson Switzer, fellow senior, said ‘we got you, Steff.’ This was proof of the brotherhood that we as a senior class especially and a team share.”

But as supportive as a unit the Rocks were and are, the news was still difficult to process. With a season and high school career-ending injury, all of Steffey’s hard work and four years of sacrifice for Head Coach Bob Beatty and the Shamrock football program seemed to be for naught.

His chance to play for one, final state championship was lost. And the core motivation in Steffey’s day-to-day life – football – was stripped away from him, leaving the St. Martha grade school grad searching for a way to cope.

“The most difficult part is adjusting to everything,” said Steffey. “Football is a major aspect of my life. It is a way of escaping all the other stressful situations and pressures. I would say not being able to use that is hard. Fridays for the past four years have been a special day for me. All I have done has been looking forward to playing that night. Not being able to play anymore and fighting with my teammates has been the most difficult part.”

So with no ability or clearance to physically participate during practice or game play, Steffey had two choices: to feel sorry for himself or to get creative in how he could contribute during his final weeks as a Shamrock football player.

Luckily for his teammates, especially his fellow wide receivers, Steffey chose the latter.

And despite his injury and difficulty in finding the silver lining in this unfortunate turn of events, Steffey has morphed into what his receiver coach, Gary Owens, calls an assistant coach.

“Ryan has done exactly what I expected him to do,” said Owens. “He's shown up every practice and every film session since his injury and become an assistant coach of sorts on the sidelines.  He began to emerge as a leader last year during JV games and found himself as a starter midway through the season, so it's not a surprise that he had such a successful senior year.”

One of the teammates that Steffey has paid particular attention to during his “student-assistant” duties, is his main replacement – junior Jackson Noe. With just three catches, 17 receiving yards, and a single touchdown reception to his credit, Noe recognized that he will need to fill Steffey’s shoes when it comes to blocking, route running, and technique – an area that Noe realized he needed some assistance with.

“The week leading up to Ryle, I had a lot of trouble blocking and Ryan (Steffey) noticed it too. He gave me some small tips about moving my feet and keeping my balance, and that advice carried me through on Friday night,” said Noe. “He also helped me with some releases off the line against a man press. Even though Steff wasn't out on the field Friday, he was helping the team by giving advice to the receivers and getting the whole team motivated.”

Noe also talked about Steffey’s contributions to Trinity’s mental make-up as they prepared for Ryle, and get ready to take on Male High School during Saturday’s KHSAA Gridiron Bowl State Finals.

“He's been helping out the team the whole year, dating back to June,” said Noe. “He really cares for the team, and us receivers truly consider ourselves a family. I know there's nothing else Steff would want to do than to be on the field this past week and the upcoming. The receivers and rest of the team played for him this past Friday night, and it really motivated me to try to play my best. He may not be playing anymore, but he is still an important member of the team through his leadership.”

The son of Darryl and Caryn Steffey, Ryan has created quite a legacy during his time with the Shamrocks. And though his offensive contributions this season (397 receiving yards and three touchdowns) are not at the level of some of his more "high-profile" teammates on offense, Steffey has embraced his role as a complete team player, and says he attributes his success to the trust he placed in his team, but most importantly the coaches.

“Trinity football is truly a special thing. It takes a lot of work and dedication. It also takes trust,” said Steffey. “At the beginning of the season, Coach Beatty stresses that we have to trust our coaching staff. Doing so will lead to success and that's what has happened. I can say that Trinity football means a lot to me. There's no place at Trinity that I feel as comfortable than our field. The bonds I have formed with teammates are unlike any other. It's a brotherhood. When we are on the field, it's not only about winning but protecting each other and playing for each other.”

One coach in particular, the aforementioned Owens, says that Steffey’s senior season has been special to witness.

“His effort during games this year was inspiring to watch,” said Owens. “I don't think it's a coincidence that he was involved in a down-field touchdown block when he had his season-ending injury.”

Owens also attested to the fact that Steffey’s selflessness in lending guidance and support to his teammates during his own time of suffering is not surprising, because Steffey has truly bought into the wide receiver “code” throughout the games he actually played in and beyond.

“Our philosophy at receiver is twofold: live for the next play and make your teammate better,” said Owens. “If each receiver does his individual job and gives maximum effort to help the guy with the ball get to the end zone, we succeed as a team.  Ryan has been the epitome of this philosophy, leading the team in touchdown blocks and never complaining about not getting the ball enough.”

Steffey says that he has not spoken to his teammates in an official forum yet, but has a pretty good idea about what he might say when he is ready to do so.

“I have not had the opportunity to address my teammates. I am waiting for the right time, because I have to accept everything that has happened first,” said Steffey. “When I do, there are several things I would say. I would express my love for all of them. I would also tell them to leave everything on the field because you never know when your last play will be. Another thing I would express is to play for each other individual successes aren't comparable to the successes we can achieve as a team.”

Steffey, who would ideally like to attend college and pursue football at the next level, says that recovery from his injury will be a long road. Doctors say he will experience pain during the first couple weeks, begin to walk slowly with crutches, resume light jogging/running in three months, and be back to “football shape” in six.

But that process won’t begin until Christmas Break, and that’s no coincidence. Steffey said there was nothing that could keep him from being on the sideline in Bowling Green on Saturday, as his teammates play for a 20th all-time football championship for Trinity High School.

That attitude is something that Steffey, and sports fans of any affiliation, can celebrate.


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