BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Competing alongside his Shenendehowa football teammates this summer during team camp at Union College, Jerad Kosek saw his final year of high school action end before it officially started. Expected to heavily contribute this season at linebacker, Kosek tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at the camp, an injury every football player knows carries a season-ending designation.
Kosek described the doctor’s visit to find out his diagnosis as “heart-breaking.” Utterly disappointed, he went home to get to sleep to end a nightmare of a day.
Then, he woke up the next morning, got himself ready, and went to watch his teammates continue playing at the team camp. That day, he was the first Shenendehowa player to get to the facility.
“That’s the kind of kid he is,” Shenendehowa head coach Brian Clawson said. “He’s all about the team.”
Kosek was one of three Shenendehowa football players to suffer a major injury before Week 1 of the 2015 season rolled around, along with junior Matt McLaughlin and sophomore Mike Shields who suffered right ankle and left knee injuries, respectively.
More football is ahead for both non-seniors. McLaughlin has hopes to return in Week 7 from his broken ankle, while Shields will have two varsity seasons left after missing this season after he snapped a tendon in his leg. Each of those players attends practice every day, paying close attention to the formations and plays the Plainsmen work on in an effort to make sure they’ll be ready when they eventually get to return to action with the green-and-white gridiron gang.
“This way, when I do come back, I’ll know it all and not have to learn it,” said McLaughlin, a defensive back and wide receiver. “I don’t want to be behind anyone. I want to come back and be ready to play.”
That’s what Shields wants to be able to do next season, too, when he will be a junior and again playing with his classmates.
“I don’t want to have to learn it next year,” said Shields, a lineman. “I want to know it so I can set an example for the JV guys coming up for next year.”
Kosek attends every practice and game, his crutches propping him up. His mind, he said, does not wander when the Plainsmen go through the intricate details of their game plan, but his focus is more on making sure his teammates’ spirits are high. Clawson said Kosek was the team’s hardest worker this past summer in the weight room, but now he’s using a different type of strength to show up each day for the Plainsmen to cheer, clap, and encourage.
His reason for doing so, he said, is simple.
“I love every one of these guys,” Kosek said.
His teammates feel the same way about Kosek — and McLaughlin and Shields. Senior quarterback Eric Morris said the team makes sure the club’s injured players still are included in group outings and get a space in the team locker room.
“Those guys are just as much a part of this team as everyone else,” Morris said. “We’re firm believers in that the people playing in the game are not better than, or above, anyone else on the team.”
Kosek, though, is extra special for Morris and the rest of the Plainsmen — especially the team’s seniors. They realize Kosek could have left the team once his high school playing career was ended, so his continued presence gives the team’s athletes an extra bounce in their step each day.
“But he also serves as a reminder — and he wants to remind us of this every day — that we need to take every day like it’s our last playing because you really don’t ever know when it will be your last snap,” Morris said.
Heading into the season, Kosek’s goal was to help his team win a state championship after coming up a couple wins short of that goal last year. Kosek said it has been tough to watch his teammates compete without him — especially during Shenendehowa’s 0-2 start to the season.
Still, his spirit has not waned; his goal for the 2015 season to help the Plainsmen win a state title is unchanged, and he said he’ll continue to contribute in any way he can to help make that possible.
“I still believe,” Kosek said.