The man in the golf cart pulled alongside the teenager using crutches. Want a ride?

“No thanks,” said Andrew Libby. His destination, about 50 yards up an incline, was the football practice field at Thornton Academy. “I’m nearly there.”

If only he was.

The best high school running back in Maine tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee two weeks ago on the opening night of the season at South Portland.

Libby will have surgery to repair it next Wednesday. Six months of healing and rehab follow.

He’ll miss Friday’s big game with Scarborough under the new lights at Hill Stadium on the Thornton Academy campus. The last time night football was played in Saco was the fall of 1938. Several fire department ladder trucks held large spotlights to illuminate the field.

Libby will miss the rest of the season, including the playoffs. Thornton Academy won the Class A state championship last year, beating Lawrence High.

If TA gets back to the final game, it will be because teammates step up in a way no one anticipated.

That’s why there was so much gloom in Saco when word first spread that Libby’s high school football career was over. The school community was particularly hurt.

“When we all came back to school on Monday (after the game with South Portland) it felt eerie,” said Loren Durkee, an English teacher who had Libby in her class last year. “A lot of people couldn’t look each other in the eye. Not because Andrew is a good football player, but because he’s such a great person and student. We all felt for him.”

It’s easy to praise, especially if you hope the words can kill pain or roust discouragement. That Andrew Libby could gobble up yards whenever he took a handoff, fielded a kick or caught a pass was seen again and again as a sophomore and junior. That it was difficult to elude his grasp when he played defense was also evident.

Not so visible is his role in TA’s Reducing Sexism and Violence Program. Durkee and Ariana Hadiaris looked for 40 students to become part of the program’s first year and asked faculty members and staff for nominations.

Who had the personality to cut across all the cliques at TA? Who would be heard when he spoke? Who would advocate for those who couldn’t?

Andrew Libby got five or six nominations, much more than most. The 40 attended a two-day training retreat on recognition of bullying and other issues and how to intervene. Libby was active. “He could have led the training,” said Durkee.

Libby’s awareness of those around him is different. Last spring, as thunderclouds gathered, track coach George Mendros called a halt to practice. Libby, on the track team, helped Mendros cover the jump pit.

Then he told his coach to go on ahead, he’d catch up. Libby had spotted children playing under a large tent set up between two dorms. The tent was anchored by metal stakes. Lightning flashed in the sky. Libby moved the children to safety.

Mendros watched. “What was I thinking? That I was an idiot for not thinking of that myself. Andrew knew what to do.”

Unasked, Libby stops by football practice for middle school players and offers suggestions. Unbidden, he went to the birthday party of Durkee’s 4-year-old son, Declan. Libby was dressed in his TA uniform and brought a 4-foot-wide cardboard football given to players as rewards. It was his present to Declan.

When Mendros saw Libby on crutches he might have expected to see a little “moping.” “He said, ‘I should be all set to compete this spring in track.’ That’s the last thing I expected.”

Gary Stevens, TA’s athletic director and the man in the golf cart, watched Libby take his place with the other two captains on the practice field for stretching exercises.

“All week, I’d visualize the football game coming up,” said Libby on Thursday. “It’s no different now. I still visualize how my teammates are going to win.”

He can’t wait for Friday night’s game with Scarborough.

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway