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South Adams senior proves knee injury a long way from heart

This was supposed to be Isaiah Baumgartner’s big year, an all-time great senior football season. After he was named to the all-state Class 2A team as a junior, every South Adams fan couldn’t wait to see what he could accomplish as a senior since he was already the school’s career leader in tackles for loss.

Except his senior year on the football field never got started.

While he was wrestling early last December, Baumgartner pushed off the wall in practice and felt something pop in his knee. Through various circumstances, he kept wrestling throughout the season, even placing second in the regional before losing in the second round of the semistate. It’s remarkable he advanced that far considering he was going off one healthy leg.

“My offense wasn’t as good,” Baumgartner said. “I couldn’t shoot as much, and when I was on the bottom it was uncomfortable.”

Still, he finished 32-6. A few weeks later, he had surgery to fix a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn meniscus. The doctor told Baumgartner he’d be out of action for nine months — and he couldn’t play football, a crushing disappointment.

Baumgartner started his rehabilitation by riding a stationary bike, working on leg extensions and jogging. Then on the first day of summer football practice, he slowly dragged a metal folding chair out to the field and plopped himself down. He wasn’t going to be able to play, but he could still find some way to help.

“He started coaching from the chair, and he’s been doing it the entire season,” Starfires coach Grant Moser said. “He could have pulled away and stayed away and nobody would have blamed him, but he even traveled with us all summer. It’s just cool to see him stick around and stay involved.”

Baumgartner is still missed on the field. The Starfires are starting sophomores Grady Sprunger and Caleb Augsburger and freshmen Austin Gorney and Nick Miller on the defensive line, backed up by three linebackers who are first-year starters. In what was supposed to be rebuilding year, with five freshmen and three sophomore starters, the Starfires are 6-1 and have a chance at the Allen County Athletic Conference title if they can win at Woodlan on Friday.

After serving as a captain last year, coaching was a natural move for Baumgartner who just wanted to stay invested. He is still a big part of the team.

“He demands respect,” Moser said. “The freshmen and sophomores know how good he’s been, and they want to be just like him. They’ve seen how much he’s influenced games. If I’m a freshman and a senior is talking to me, I’m all ears, because it’s cool that he’s even talking to me.”

But it’s not just the fact that Baumgartner is older and has a strong resume. He’s actually a pretty good coach.

“He knows what he’s talking about,” Sprunger said. “He’s been there and done everything, and he connects with me. I know what to do because of him, and I’ve improved tremendously. He’s become a really good coach. He’s perfect where he’s at on the team, even though he’s not playing.”

It’s all about coaching now for Baumgartner who a few weeks ago took off his game jersey and started to wear a South Adams polo shirt on the sidelines just like all the other assistants. Even the coaches in the press box have noticed how quickly he has been to help work with players as they come off the field, and some of the fans noticed, too.

“It’s hard, but it’s just cool that I could be a coach and help them in any way possible,” Baumgartner said. “It’s weird but also cool that they are listening to what I have to say. They are young, but it’s cool to see them grow and get better. They are coming together more as a team.”

He’s still totally invested and involved.

“The character he has shown through this injury and his growth as a person has been awesome,” Moser said.

Baumgartner went out for the coin flip two weeks ago against Adams Central, and there’s the possibility he might dress for senior night next week, though he won’t play. Right now his next goal is to be able to compete sometime during the wrestling season. If that happens, he’ll have plenty of fans happy to see him compete for real.

For more on local sports, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring and on Facebook at Blake Sebring.

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