Santa Margarita quarterback Johnny Stanton shakes hands with an opposing… (Steve Galluzzo / For The…)
Before the start of Friday's Trinity League opener against Anaheim Servite High at Saddleback College, Santa Margarita quarterback Johnny Stanton joined his fellow captains on the 50-yard line for the customary pregame coin toss.
As always, he was wearing his No. 4 jersey, but instead of his helmet he donned a baseball cap. And instead of his confident stride, he hobbled on crutches back to the sideline. He did not play, but that doesn't mean he played no role in the Eagles' 21-0 victory.
"I'd be killing myself if I had to watch this on the computer or something," Stanton admitted from the bench during warm-ups. "There's no way I was going to miss it, and that's why I wanted to have the surgery right away."
On Sept. 28, Stanton had season-ending knee surgery for a torn ligament he suffered Sept. 21 against Ventura St. Bonaventure, a game in which he was responsible for three touchdowns.
"When I found out the extent of the injury and that I'd be out for the season, I thought if that's my last game, it's a good way to go out," said Stanton, a senior. "The [Division I state bowl game] last year was exciting, but my last game is the one I'll remember most."
Stanton expects to make "a 100% recovery" and be back on the field in time for summer workouts at Nebraska, where he has committed. He even got a get-well card from New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow.
It was a trying two weeks for the future Cornhusker and for his teammates, a cruel reminder of just how unpredictable football is and how everything can change with one snap of the ball.
"At least it happened at the most opportune time for the team, heading into our bye week," Stanton said. "It's given the guys time to adjust to the situation and it gave me time to have the operation and be back out here. It's tough, but I'm going to be as involved with the team as I possibly can."
This season, Stanton became the Eagles' total offense leader with 5,900 career yards, eclipsing the 5,267 amassed from 1995 to 1997 by Carson Palmer, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy at USC and who now plays for the Oakland Raiders. In 32 career games, Stanton scored 37 touchdowns, yet he insists others have played just as big a role in the team's success the last three years.
"I got a lot of attention, but this was never my team," he said. "I'm one of five or six seniors that formed that core group, but some of them have done a better job leading than me. Coach [Harry Welch] has always had the same approach and it's not going to change now."
The Eagles' fate will rest on the shoulders of junior Josh Canty, who started Friday's game, and sophomore Kyle Sweet, who replaced Canty in the second half and ran for the clinching touchdown.
"Johnny's been awesome throughout this whole thing," Sweet said. "You can't go in thinking you're going to fill his shoes, no one can do that, but he's like another coach at practice and in games and just seeing him here motivates us to work harder."
Santa Margarita, ranked No. 1 in the Southland by The Times, carries an 11-game winning streak into Friday's showdown with No. 10 Santa Ana Mater Dei.