Pat Kennelly's right calf was gone. Disappeared. His right knee screamed. So did he.
It was the fourth quarter of the Pacific League frosh-soph championship game in 1986 and Kennelly, a Crescenta Valley linebacker, had blitzed the Arcadia quarterback. Kennelly, then a freshman, reached for his target and was blind-sided by the Arcadia center. His knee made a loud pop.
"It felt like the bottom of my leg wasn't connected to my body," he said. Fortunately, it was.
In fact, according to the doctor he saw that night, Kennelly would need minimal recuperation before he returned to strenuous activity. However, Kennelly's painfully slow recovery told a different story.
He could hardly stand in the shower, let alone climb stairs. His knee ached incessantly and finally, five months after the episode on the field, he underwent surgery.
Next, Kennelly's left knee followed suit.
While playing football last spring with a group of friends, Kennelly was hit and his good knee gave.
"I was laid out," he said. "I thought everything was over." Soon after, he underwent similar surgery on his left knee.
The ramifications of the injuries extended beyond football. Kennelly's grades began to plummet as did his relationship with his family and friends.
"It was definitely an emotional year," he said.
And even though he couldn't set foot on the field, Kennelly's competitive spirit was in on every down.
"It seemed like the linebackers were getting beat off the line every play," he said. "I'd go crazy on the sidelines. I felt like a coach."
Now that the junior is back in the defensive unit, however, Kennelly channels that emotion into his play.
"He has a tremendous football disposition," said Coach Jim Beckenhauer, adding Kennelly would have started on the varsity as a sophomore had he been healthy. "He has a real nastiness."
Kennelly, 16, is a study in contrast. His on-field aggressiveness is hidden out of uniform. His speech is soft and deliberate. He closes his eyes and smiles as he describes "the best feeling in the world"--hitting.
"I bottle myself up," he said. "I get into a little cup and explode out of it."
Kennelly's intensity is, at times, costly. Because he has never played a down of varsity football, he'll have to fine-tune his play.
"He's still a young linebacker and makes mistakes in over-pursuit," assistant Alan Eberhart said. "But his attitude is very rare. Even when he was hurting we couldn't keep him out of drills. He's all football. All business."