Thursday, December 12, 2013
WATERBORO - John Morin squared himself, tightened his grip on the blocking pad and nodded to the next Massabesic High ballcarrier. Casey Nava began his run.
This was a new drill. Morin, Massabesic's 16-year head coach, wanted to turn his running backs into aggressors on the football field. He pushed the blocking pad hard into Nava's shoulder, who countered with a forceful forearm. A second later, Morin realized he had picked Nava's surgically repaired shoulder.
The coach all but held his breath. So did his senior fullback.
The high school football season opens this weekend. Massabesic travels up Route 202 for its Friday night opener with Portland at Fitzpatrick Stadium. Just two of the dozens of teams, hundreds of players and thousands of fans anticipating success, and the good and bad surprises.
Then there is Nava and the thankfully smaller group of teenage football players who might have wondered if this weekend ever would come. They are the injured from a year ago who put their trust in doctors, therapists, trainers and most of all, themselves.
Nava hurt his shoulder during Massabesic's homecoming game against Gorham late last season. He tried not to use it -- lucky him, he's ambidextrous -- and tried not to think about it that weekend. Then came a Monday field trip.
"Every time the bus hit a bump, my shoulder hit the side. It wasn't good."
The diagnosis was a torn labrum. He missed the final game of the season, missed some time on the basketball court, then went in for surgery late last winter.
He was in a sling for six weeks. He couldn't play high school baseball, the sport he loves a bit more than others.
Nava threw himself into rehabilitating the shoulder. He lifted weights, did flexibility exercises and lifted some more.
He's listed at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds. A second baseman with a nice swing, Nava can play college baseball at that size. Play college football at the Division III level? Maybe, maybe not. Even knowing his college football future was hazy at best, Nava worked harder to rejoin a high school team that hopes to reach the Class A playoffs.
"Football is family," said Nava, trying to explain. "Family on and off the field. You can't separate the two. I still wanted to be part of that. That's what kept me going through the rehab, staying positive."
He's played safety on defense throughout his four years. "I like the contact. I've always liked hitting." On offense, Nava played wherever Morin thought he was needed. As a fill-in quarterback his freshman season. Running back. Fullback. Kick returner. He sees the field well and has returned kicks for touchdowns.
He wants to major in international business in college. He visits Bates College soon. He can envision his future but right now is anticipating his present.
"Every week the start of the season got closer, I got more excited," said Nava. "When you can't do anything, you start to appreciate the little things you've been missing. I can't wait for the season to start."
He remembers the drill and Morin driving the blocking pad into his shoulder. "I took a few steps by him and it was wow, my shoulder felt good. I'm going to be OK."
Morin exhaled, too. "When Casey turned around, I could see the biggest smile. He just realized he could play at the same level he played before the injury.
"I put a bit in his mouth this summer when he played seven-on-seven football. He wasn't going to win anything in those workouts and he could lose everything. He did a great job of holding back. When finally the bit was pulled out, there was no hesitation."
In the preseason, Massabesic scrimmaged Lawrence and Cheverus, the two teams in last year's state championship game. Morin exhaled again. His team learned from the experiences. His fullback continued to learn he's whole again.
Nava and I ended our conversation. No, he's not related to Daniel Nava, the Red Sox outfielder with the storybook debut, hitting a grand slam in his first at-bat. "I wish. Maybe I could score some tickets."
I wished him luck this season and unknowingly, touched his shoulder. The surgically repaired shoulder. The hand quickly came off.
"No, no," said Nava, smiling. "It's good. Believe me."
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: