Heart of the matter

By JOEY KNIGHT, Times Staff Writer
Published November 15, 2007

Turns out, the distinct pop Hudson quarterback Zack Wynn at right, handing off heard early in the second half of the Zephyrhills game was his left anterior cruciate ligament.

That, or one of the blood vessels in coach Mark Nash's neck.

Results of an MRI exam received late last week confirmed the torn ACL, which almost certainly will keep Wynn out of Friday's Class 3A playoff game at Harmony.

But the prognosis, while bleak, served as a rousing confirmation of Wynn's valiance.

The second-half performance he willed - and winced - himself through against the Bulldogs undoubtedly goes down as one of the gutsiest in local prep sports history.

After hearing that nauseating pop, Wynn threw a 46-yard touchdown and, following a penalty, booted a long extra point to give Hudson a nine-point lead it wouldn't relinquish.

The 23-17 Cobras triumph clinched a playoff berth.

If that's not heart, well, Jeff Garcia isn't mobile.

Speaking of heart, here are some other noble performances worthy of cardiovascular acclaim.

His game was just sick

In 2006, versatile Pasco forward Darrell Davis entered the final district basketball tournament of his prep career with a body temperature in triple digits, an inability to digest solid food and a posterior smarting from two antibiotic shots.

But somehow, Davis' game remained at full strength. In three district tourney contests, Davis totaled 70 points, including 21 in a playoff-clinching semifinal win over South Sumter. In the final, a double-overtime loss to Springstead, Davis had 21 through three quarters before his body gave out, forcing him to retreat briefly to the locker room.

Knee-deep in fortitude

When Vince Chalecki's torn posterior cruciate ligament ripped further apart the spring before his senior season, the gritty Wesley Chapel linebacker was advised to have prep career-ending surgery.

He chose to play instead, logging 120 solo tackles for the Wildcats in 2006. "Chalecki's a beast," teammate Greg Jenkins said last season. "What else can you say about him?"


Torn meniscus, torched secondaries

A look at Drew Weatherford's junior year stats - a Pasco County-record 2,645 yards and 39 TDs - begs one question: How much more staggering could they have been had the Land O'Lakes quarterback been healthy?

Weatherford tore the medial meniscus in his left knee late in the 2002 preseason and was told by a doctor the day of the season opener he would need surgery and another six to eight weeks to heal.

After conferring - and praying - with his parents, Weatherford decided to play, a decision that still haunts area defensive coordinators. "He never would talk about it to the media or complain to the coaches," said his older brother, Will. "But I know he was in pain all year."

Dad in his memory, foes in his dust

For a time in 2003, it seemed tragedy would be the proverbial headwind that would thwart Jeff Masterson's state title aspirations. In October of that year, Masterson's dad, George, died of cancer and his cross country performances suffered as a result. But the following spring, Masterson won a Class 3A state track title in the 3,200 meters. Upon receiving his medal at the post-race awards ceremony, he pointed toward the sky. At church the following Sunday, he had the medal in his pocket.

Fighting adversity, in triplicate

Any collection of courageous performances would be remiss without mention of the Land O'Lakes 2007 football team, which has won nine games in a row and a district title despite a collection of travails and tragedies.

In July, 16-year-old lineman Thomas Kranendonk was killed while working at his dad's marine service company in what eventually was ruled an accident. The following month, two-way standout John Weatherford was lost for the season with a torn knee ligament.

Another ballcarrier, senior Chris Singleton, has run for 314 yards and four TDs despite undergoing his third knee surgery last spring.

"I've been coaching 19 years, and I've never admired a player more for their courage, determination, commitment, whatever else you want to write," Gators assistant Tom Carter said.

A player epitomizing a whole team? Perhaps.

Big heart in Little Everglades

Despite painful shin splints in her right leg that required a prerace ice pack, Gulf sophomore Jaci Pustelnik winced her way through the Class 3A, District 3 meet at Dade City's Little Everglades Ranch, finishing 37th (24:20). The Bucs placed fourth as a team, narrowly qualifying for regionals.

After the race, Pustelnik, who collapsed at the finish line, had to be carried by her father to the family vehicle. According to her mom, Tammy, Pustelnik was on crutches that evening and starting six weeks of physical therapy within days.

A trail of tears to Tallahassee

When a previously undetected heart ailment led to Pasco sophomore Randy Bates' collapse and death in the first quarter of a basketball game at South Sumter in early January 1995, coaches and teammates were understandably devastated.

The Pirates took eight days off, canceling two games. Then they returned with a vengeance, and a vow: honor their fallen teammate by making it to the state tournament. Pasco did just that, winning 15 in a row to reach the Class 4A final four in Tallahassee. To get there, the Pirates had to win two region tournament games at, of all places, South Sumter.

"That whole thing was just incredible and emotional," guard Tim Crosby said at the time. "(Randy's death) will stay with us forever, even when we stop playing basketball."


Joey Knight can be reached at jknight@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3350.