With one unfortunate play in the first quarter of its opening game Friday night, Thornton Academy’s football season took an unexpected turn.

Widely regarded as preseason favorites in Class A after winning the state championship in 2012, the Golden Trojans now must move forward without their best player — Andrew Libby.

Libby, the Maine Sunday Telegram Player of the Year last season, confirmed Sunday that he has an anterior cruciate ligament injury as the result of a kickoff return against South Portland.

Libby is scheduled to see a doctor Monday. ACL injuries typically require 8 to 12 months of rehabilitation.

“It’s tough,” Libby said of the injury. “I’ll be on the sideline to help my teammates. That’s all I can do now. I think we’ll have a good season. There’s a lot of talent.”

Libby’s injury came at the end of a 55-yard kickoff return.

“I was stiff-arming a player and I took a shoulder to the knee at the same time,” said Libby.

Libby, a senior, limped to the sideline and didn’t return. South Portland beat the Golden Trojans, 26-13.

There’s no question about Libby’s talent. As the Golden Trojans were planning their quest for a repeat title, the strategy was to put the ball in Libby’s hands as often as possible.

He was at fullback for the opening game. A year ago he was positioned at tailback, slot back and wing back, and also took direct snaps in the wildcat formation. He played defensive back, returned punts and kickoffs and did the punting. At 200 pounds, he was tough to stop.

Now the Golden Trojans will have to play without him.

Even though the injury is devastating to Libby and his teammates, Coach Kevin Kezal said at least the team knows his status and can start planning a season without him. He said it would have been tough wondering if and when Libby was coming back.

The coaches and players feel for their teammate.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Kezal. “It’s football and these things happen. As sad as I am for Andrew because of his injury, I think I’ll be sadder when he graduates because he’ll no longer be at Thornton and he’s such a great kid.

Libby rushed for nearly 1,100 yards last season and scored 30 touchdowns — including two receiving, four punt returns and an interception return. He was named to the Maine Sunday Telegram All-State team and was Maine’s Gatorade Player of the Year.

Libby plans to rehab and be ready for his freshman year in college.

Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at:

tchard@pressherald.com

Twitter: TomChardPPH