Chris Tutwiler went from being the heralded Green Hope High starting quarterback to a stretcher, to an ambulance, to a gurney to the operating table in about nine hours.
His high school career went from promising to over in the fraction of second, the amount of time it took to fracture the tibia and fibula in his left leg. He went from being a strong-armed scrambling quarterback to a wheelchair and crutches.
He is still the starting quarterback in some ways, though it is unlikely he’ll take another snap for the Falcons.
“I’m still a quarterback,” he said. “I’m still a leader. I’ll still do anything I can to help us win. I’m hopeful that I can do a little coaching. Just help any way I can.”
Tutwiler, 16, was dropping back to pass during a scrimmage against Southeast Raleigh on Aug. 17 when a defender hit him right below his knee. Tutwiler knew it was bad instantly.
So did his teammates when they saw Tutwiler’s tibia – the shinbone – protruding through the skin.
“There was no hiding it,” said Green Hope coach Kwame Dixon. “Everybody on the field knew it was really bad.”
His injury was similar to the career-ending injury suffered by former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, who shares Tutwilder’s Sept. 9 birthday, in 1985.
“I guess we are even more alike now,” Tutwiler said.
Medical personnel realigned Tutwiler’s leg on the field, and a few hours later he was in surgery.
As much as the initial injury hurt, the pain of not playing his senior year seemed almost as bad.
Green Hope, a program that broke a 38-game losing streak in 2011, was expected to contend for the Southwest Wake 4A championship with Tutwiler at quarterback. He had passed for 2,428 yards while leading the Falcons to a 6-6 record and the state playoffs in 2012.
He was stunned, sad and disappointed. “It stinks,” he said.
He is adjusting and trying to put his injury into perspective.
“He knows it could have been a lot worse. There are worse things that could happen,” said Tony Tutwiler, his father.
“It could have been a head or neck injury,” Chris Tutwiler said. “I can’t play, but I’m going to be fine.”
Dixon said the team discussed Tutwiler’s injury.
“We told the kids to not waste one brain cell on concentrating on his not being able to play,” Dixon said. “That doesn’t help him and it certainly doesn’t help us. The best thing we can do is to continue to work hard and play hard just like Chris did. That is what Chris wants.”
Luke Massei was the quarterback of Green Hope’s undefeated junior-varsity team in 2012 and is now the varsity starter. He also happens to be one of Tutwiler’s best friends.
“I’m going to do everything I possibly can to help him,” Tutwiler said.
Massei has helped Tutwiler, pushing his wheelchair around practice Thursday during the last workout before the opener against Cardinal Gibbons.
“We’ve had to make a few adjustments without Chris,” Dixon said before the game. “We had to simplify things a little. You don’t want to hold back 10 in preparation for one, but we had to. Luke knows the offense, but he didn’t have the reps with the varsity. I know he is going to be fine.”
Massei played well in the opener, passing for 218 yards in a 14-12 loss to Cardinal Gibbons. Green Hope missed a potential game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
Tutwiler had hoped to play college football at a Division II or Division III school. He doesn’t know if that is still possible. He has learned to maneuver on his crutches surprisingly quickly and is trying to get his school year started and figure out how to regulate his medications and his school work.
He got a surprising blessing while still in the hospital. Millbrook coach Clarence Inscore came by for a visit, to check on him and console him.
“It was very nice of him,” Tutwiler said. “I’m sure our coach would have gone and seen one of their guys if he had been hurt, but it really meant a lot to me. I mean, it really meant a lot.”