RIPON – Spencer Hower pushed himself around the skate park, building speed and confidence as he went.
It had been years since he last rode a skateboard, but on this April afternoon, everything came rushing back.
“I used to skate when I was a kid but gave it up. I was a pretty good as a kid,” said Hower, an all-Southern League wide receiver as a junior and a catalyst in Ripon Christian’s Sac-Joaquin Section title hopes this fall.
“My friend asked me to show him some things and everything came back.”
Well, not everything.
Hower launched himself through the air, losing control of his board and balance. Suddenly, he was falling – not flying.
He landed backwards and tried desperately to brace his fall with his arms. SNAP! Hower broke bones in both arms and dislocated his left wrist, leaving his senior season in doubt.
One thing was certain: Head coach Randy Fasani would be without one of his top playmakers for the summer.
Hower suffered breaks to the radius and ulna bones in his left arm, in addition to a dislocated wrist. He also broke the scaphoid bone in his right wrist.
“I felt them go,” said Hower, who drove himself to the emergency room at Doctors Hospital of Manteca. “My first thought was , ‘Oh, man, if I broke my arms, coach is going to kill me.’ ... It wasn’t pretty.”
Fasani wasn’t thrilled with the news.
The first-year head coach and former NFL quarterback likes to joke there’s a standing policy in his locker room: Players are no longer allowed to water ski or skateboard.
“Over the last two years, our major injuries have occurred outside of football – waterskiing and skateboarding,” Fasani said.
All kidding aside, Ripon Christian can ill-afford injuries of any kind. With one of the section’s smallest enrollments, the Knights’ major hindrance over the years hasn’t been talent but depth.
This season, Fasani broke fall camp with 24 players on his roster.
“It was definitely disappointing hearing about another player getting injured not playing the sport of football,” Fasani said. “Just one player getting hurt extremely puts us at a disadvantage.”
He’s just glad Hower won’t have to miss anymore time.
The senior wide receiver figures to be junior quarterback Billy Marr’s top target this fall. His role was limited in Ripon Christian’s season-opener last week versus Elliot Christian, but only because Fasani felt it was inappropriate to pass with a big lead.
The Knights won 69-6.
Hower touched the ball just twice in the victory, ripping off a long run from the Wildcat formation.
He’ll have a larger stake in the game plan this Friday as Ripon Christian looks to shock Ripon in their annual neighborhood tussle. The Indians are 2-0 and have outscored their opponents 93-0.
“Chris Johnson has developed a reputable program at Ripon High. One thing I’ve noticed is that they like to play extremely physical,” Fasani said. “After watching film of the first two games, they like to load the box. Our receivers are going to be forced to play a big role in this game.”
Junior quarterback Billy Marr attempted only three passes last week, completing two for 89 yards. Fasani isn’t concerned there may be a lack of chemistry between Marr and his receiving corps, especially Hower who was prohibited from catching all summer.
Though he wasn’t cleared for contact until Aug. 23, Hower found other ways to stay in sync with Marr during those long summer months.
He ran routes against air as Marr rifled passes over his head or just out of his reach. He focused on building his lower-body strength while the team was in the weight room. And when Fasani wasn’t looking, Hower would try to sneak onto the practice field.
“I had to raise my voice to get him off several times. During practice, he’d want to get in and get reps with his braces on his wrists,” Fasani said. “I caught him a couple of times and forced him out. I tried to get him to think about the big picture.”
Hower won’t be Marr’s only option in the vertical game.
Exchange student Bashar Shammas (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) is an emerging talent, blessed with natural athletic ability. He was a two-sport athlete in his native country of Syria, neither of which was American football.
Jonah Lewis is a 5-foot-10 sophomore, two-way player Keagan Rivera showcased his hands with an interception last week, and tight end Jared Stuit had 10-yard touchdown reception on a half-back pass from Andrew Brown.
Brown is the reigning Southern League MVP and easily the area’s most versatile talent. He caught both of Marr’s passes during two quarters of action, one of which went for a 62-yard touchdown.
However, Hower is a tried-and-true option out wide. The 5-foot-11 led all wide receivers with 32 catches, 548 yards and six touchdowns in 2012.
He wants Marr to look his way early and often on Friday.
“I’m really confident in myself. I tend to do that a lot,” Hower said. “If coach gives me a chance, I feel like I’ll rise to the occasion.”
Flying, this time.