Dallas’ Jake DelGaudio makes a triumphant return to the field after a devastating injury kept him off in 2020
Too often it passes without notice. The muffled aaah of the crowd. The filled stands. Too often high school football players get so caught up in the emotional freedom of the game that they hardly step back to absorb the ambiance surrounding it.
On Friday night, Dallas senior Jake DelGaudio did take that inventory. The 5-10, 175-pound linebacker had a reason. And if he forgot, he set a reminder for himself with a Sharpie on the inside of his left forearm which read: 9-25-20.
That’s the date DelGaudio suffered a devastating complex fracture of his right tibia and fibula that required emergency surgery. He harbored doubts that he would walk normally again, let alone play football again. Regrettably, he endured resultant compartment syndrome that caused further nerve, muscle, and soft tissue damage, requiring two more subsequent surgeries to correct it. His final surgery was in late February.
On August 27, bearing the brunt of torrential rain and four lightning delays, DelGaudio made 13 tackles in a 34-14 season-opening loss to Valley View, though the Mountaineers were within 19-14 with 5:46 left in the third quarter.
For a moment early in the game, when the offense was on the field, DelGaudio took a look into the stands to spot his parents and his grandmother, who came from Ohio to see his return and actually heard the sound of the crowd.
He woke up Saturday morning sore—but it was a good sore, like the next day after a workout coming off a long layoff.
“My leg feels good, it didn’t give me any problems (Friday) night and I thought I played pretty well,” DelGaudio said. “I got a ton of reps at practice on one side of the ball because my coach wants to ease me in. I think next week I may start doing a little more.”
DelGaudio wanted to make sure he didn’t get lost in the throes of the moment. To remind himself, he jotted down 9-25-20 on his forearm.
“I looked down at that and it reminded me how far I came and what happened,” DelGaudio said. “The first hit was a good one. I hit their (6-5, 220-pound) quarterback out of bounds and I lost my helmet. I think the first defensive drive when I got the play call from the sideline, that’s when it became a game and I was able to just play football.”
There was a 20-minute rain delay. There were four lightning delays. Though nothing was able to stop DelGaudio’s return. Prior to getting on the field, Mountaineers’ coach Rich Mannello reminded his team of the journey DelGaudio and teammate Parker Bolesta, who had suffered a shoulder injury last season, went through to play.
As an added incentive, DelGaudio read an inspirational letter to himself from his father, Dr. Walter DelGaudio, before stepping on the field.
Walt DelGaudio held up well, though, he admits, he was a little nervous in the beginning.
“I felt good because I saw Jake enough in scrimmages that he was getting into his old defensive form again,” Walt said. “I was a little nervous early on, but I just wanted to see him out there. Jake played with heart and I wanted him to play with intelligence and fury. He had fun and it was fun watching him.
“He was back.”
And having fun.
Jake wanted to make sure he captured the moment in his mind.
“It was great to be in that atmosphere again Friday night, which is something I really missed last year,” Jake said. “I heard the crowd. I took a look around into the stands when I was on the sideline and saw the community there, everyone together watching us play ball. I would have liked to have won, but I had fun playing again.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been covering high school football since 1992 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter @JSantoliquito. Follow EasternPAFootball.com on Twitter @EPAFootball.
Follow EasternPAFootball.com on Twitter @EPAFootball
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