ANNVILLE – Noah Connor can attest to the fact that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.
Though his injury was never truly life-threatening – there were times when Connor was figuratively ‘dying to get back on the field’ – it was indeed life-altering. But Connor has returned from it better than ever, physically, mentally and emotionally.
In fact, if you watch Connor play for the Annville-Cleona football team it would be hard to tell he was ever hurt at all. But talk to him about it, well that’s an entirely different story.
By all accounts, Connor is 100 percent healthy from a shin-splint-to-bone-fracture injury in his left leg. And because their feature back is now healthy, so is the Little Dutchmen’s running game, as well as their 3-1 start to the season.
“After missing last year, I knew this season was going to be my biggest year,” said Connor, a 5-11, 185-pound bruiser. “Missing your junior year is big. I’m hoping to be an offensive threat. With a leg injury, it’s tough to be a good running back. On defense my jobs is just fulfilling my roles and doing my assignments.
“On my last visit to the doctor in June, he said, ‘You’re 100 percent’,” added Connor. “He just said, ‘Take it easy at first. Just take it slow. One you get back into the swing of things, you’ll be as good as you were before.'”
“You could tell he was going to come back,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Terry Lehman of Connor’s injury. “But we didn’t know he was going to come back like this. He got a clean bill of health, and we went over it with him. We asked him, ‘What do you want to do?’ He wants to be on the field, 100 percent of the time.”
A three-sport performer for the Little Dutchmen, Connor had been sidelined by his leg injury for a period of 15 months. It was a 15 key athletic months for a professed sports nut that Connor will never get back.
“It was difficult for me,” said Connor, who has compiled over 470 yards rushing in A-C’s first four games. “Football season for me was really difficult. I had a good sophomore year and I was looking forward to my junior year. It (his left tibia) ended up healing incorrectly. It was corrective surgery. I tried to get to as many practices as possible. For me, playing three sports, not playing was awkward. I didn’t like doing nothing.
“He’s having a very, very good year,” said Lehman. “The last time he played, he was a sophomore. Now he’s a senior. He’s a very talented, knowledgeable football player. If we didn’t tell you he was hurt, you wouldn’t know it.”
Connor first began noticing pain in his shins – commonly known as ‘shin splints’ – before the start of the 2013 scholastic baseball season. After trying to shrug it off and ‘running through them’, x-rays revealed a fracture in his left tibia, a break that ultimately required surgery.
“My biggest thing was not forgetting that it’s an issue, but not focusing on it. I want to be aware of it, but not scared of it,” said Connor. “Out of everything, the biggest thing for me was how inconvenient crutches were. I had to take them everywhere. I was late for every class. I’d still go to practices and games, but it was difficult. Crutches are good for the services they provide, but they’re so inconvenient.
“During my sophomore year, I helped out with the baseball team,” Connor continued. “In my junior year, I knew we were going to be good and I didn’t want to be a distraction. I showed up at games, but I didn’t want to be with them (his teammates). And the school work was tough, just lugging a backpack around.”
“Noah is a high energy kid,” said Lehman. “He’s a very polite kid. He’s just a neat kid.”
While getting his leg back in shape was tough enough, even tougher for Connor was being distanced from his teammates. But the toughest part of all was having an active lifestyle revolving around sports interrupted.
“For me, sports is all I’ve ever done,” said Connor. “I’ve played three sports all the way up. Watching was tough. With the guys we had last year, I knew they could do their jobs. With the seniors we had last year, they were leaders and everyone was going to look up to them. But not being able to play threw me off for a whole year.
“Last year, I came to all the football practices because I didn’t want to miss a whole year,” Connor continued. “I didn’t want to miss a beat. I wanted to get back into things quickly and try to make up for lost time.”
“I remember being out here in August when it was hot and muggy, and everybody was complaining,” said Lehman. “And Noah says, ‘I love it.’ And he says, ‘If you would’ve sat out a whole year, you’d love it too.'”
More than a leader, Connor has become somewhat of an inspiration for his teammates. The rest of the Little Dutchmen are keenly aware of what he’s been through, and respect Connor for it.
“I didn’t think of myself as an inspiration,” said Connor. “I never had anything handed to me. To me, ‘working for it’ would be a good thing to take from it. I had to work twice as hard to get back into it.
“I try not to be assertive,” Connor added. “I like to see myself as a leader. I try to be the guy who encourages somebody on every single play. ‘Shake it off. Don’t worry about it. Learn from it and do it the next play.’ I try to take the negative away. If people are happy and motivated, they are more likely to play well.”
“He’s a leader,” said Lehman of Connor. “He knows what we want to do on offense and he knows what we want to do on defense. And he tells people what to do, where to go and where to line up.”
“When the doctor told me I was 100 percent ready to go, every trace of doubt in my mind was gone,” said Connor. “When I’m on the field, I’m not even thinking about it. I’m thinking about the play that was called. I don’t want to be the guy who makes a play go wrong.
“This season we came in and thought, ‘there’s no reason not to have a good year,'” continued Connor. “My goal was to have a good record at home, and be on the top of the section. The Donegal game was important. I was looking to be 4-0, but I’m happy with 3-1. I’m looking to win out.”
Connor is unsure if he will continue to play all three of his sports. If he doesn’t, it won’t be because of his leg.
“With basketball, I’m a little iffy,” said Connor. “But if I didn’t play, it wouldn’t be because of the injury. I have come conflicts with some other things. With baseball, I’m definitely looking forward to it. I want to go to college and I’ve got to keep my grades up. I’m not not going to do things because I had a leg injury. I still love all three sports.”