Being forced to miss time is arguably the toughest thing for a young athlete to endure.

While your teammates and friends participate in the sport you’ve been training for, you’re left on the sidelines, powerless to contribute.

For several members of the MacArthur football team, the road to redemption has been a long one, but one that has forged leadership qualities within some the senior starters on whom the Highlanders rely.

The injury bug bites every team, but perhaps no team has been bit quite as many times the past several years as MacArthur.

Two years ago, receiver Desmon Cation tore his ACL late in his sophomore season. And while it didn’t cost him much time during the football season, the long recovery period meant Cation, an outfielder for the Mac baseball team, would miss the entire baseball season. While his teammates reached the Class 5A state tournament on the diamond, Desmon used it as motivation.

“It made the process a little bit better because it made me work harder to get back,” Cation said.

Later in the 2017 football season, during the Highlanders’ playoff game against Carl Albert, offensive lineman Isaiah Passi suffered what Mac coach Brett Manning called “one of the most gruesome injuries” he’d ever seen. As Passi describes it, he simply lost balance after a CA defender ran into him. Next thing he knew, his legs were pointing in directions they were not supposed to.

Passi tore the ACL, PCL, MCL and meniscus in his right knee and the MCL and meniscus in his left. The injury had a severe impact on Passi, physically and psychologically. He said the injury put him “in a bad spot”, as his weight ballooned from his playing weight in the 240s up past 300 pounds. For 10 months, Passi wasn’t able to partake in the sport he loved.

“I just felt disconnected from football,” Passi said. “I didn’t really want to do anything anymore.”

As soon as he was allowed, Passi joined his teammates at practice, despite not being in the physical condition he had been previously. He struggled at times as a junior, still dealing with the after-effects of the injury. Still, Passi was back on the field.

But the hardships didn’t stop after 2017. Last season, against Duncan, linebacker Daunye Thompson broke his fibula, one of the major bones in the lower leg. With an initial prognosis of 2-3 months away from football minimum, Thompson sought to defy the odds.

“I was able to come back really quick, actually,” Thompson said. “I was just hoping to get to play again.”

But even when physical injury is not the reason for missing time, the psychological effects of not playing can still be significant. One of Mac’s leading receivers last year, Ryan Andrews was forced to sit out the first games of this season for eligibility reasons. When he returned, Andrews felt he had a duty to fulfill, especially as a senior.

“It meant a lot, not just to me, personally, but to my teammates, coaches, all that,” Andrews said.

But all four of these stories have happy endings. All four players have returned to the field and say they are better for having gone through the hardships.

Cation has made a full recovery and been able to make an impact for both the Mac football and baseball teams. Daunye Thompson has played a vital role, especially lately, as fellow linebacker Keylan Murry has had to miss time. Thompson had a big impact — literally — against Western Heights, sniffing out a screen pass attempt and hitting the would-be pass-catcher to disrupt the play.

Passi has not only returned to his previous form, he’s taken on more responsibilities, starting on defense as well. His highlight of the season came against Altus. Prior to the game against the Bulldogs, Passi had watched YouTube highlights of All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald to inspire him. The Mac senior channeled his inner Donald that night, racking up 15 tackles on defense, while he and the offensive line kept quarterback Racer Felter upright and cleared lanes for Nasir Kemper to score three offensive touchdowns.

Andrews has proven to be someone who can provide big plays, like the 48-yard reception he had at the beginning of the game against Altus. When Felter was hurt against Clinton, Andrews gave backup Isaiah Gray a reliable target, leading the Highlanders with 54 receiving yards and a touchdown on just two catches.

All four know what it means to be down. But it also gives them unique perspective as seniors trying to motivate and inspire the younger players. Most of all, they know encouragement from teammates plays a significant role in the ability to come back.

“It makes it much easier,” Cation said. “When we’re down, we’re there to help each other out.”

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