West Point senior quarterback Gray Berry, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament earlier this season, is still finding ways to support his teammates. Photo by: Jennifer Mosbrucker/Dispatch Staff
October 22, 2019 12:06:25 AM
WEST POINT -- West Point senior Brandon Harris dreamed of finishing out his final football season with the Green Wave with all his fellow seniors alongside him on the field.
So when quarterback Gray Berry was diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament after West Point's game against Noxubee County on Sept. 20, Harris was shaken, upset.
"I really felt like, 'I really ain't got my quarterback no more,'" Harris said, "so I had to step up."
Seeing Berry anxious to play during pregame warmups and knowing how much the gesture would mean, Harris traded his No. 2 jersey for his teammate's No. 14 when the Green Wave traveled to Saltillo on Oct. 4.
"He had mentioned that, but I never really thought he was actually gonna do it," Berry said. "It was real special for him to do that for me."
Harris' act was just one example of how the Green Wave are playing for their absent quarterback. West Point is ranked second in the state and first in Class 5A, and the Green Wave have won seven straight, but coach Chris Chambless knows having Berry on the field would mean even more.
"We've been able to continue to be successful, but I'd like to see how much more successful we could have been with Gray out there with us," Chambless said.
'It really hit me'
Berry knows exactly when he tore the ACL in his right leg: when he was hit on a scramble against Horn Lake on Aug. 23 in the Green Wave's first game of the year.
West Point's trainer did a few tests on the sideline and suspected the tear but was unable to confirm it. Berry went to the doctor the next morning and was told he had a bruised meniscus. The doctor judged Berry's ACL to be strong enough, and he did not undergo an MRI.
Still feeling the effects of the injury, Berry sat out West Point's next game, a loss to Louisville. In the meantime, he worked with a trainer to rehab the injury and was back on the field by the following week against Starkville. Berry caught a touchdown pass against the Yellow Jackets, then completed six of his 11 pass attempts against Tupelo the following week.
But during pregame warmups at Noxubee County, Berry said, "it really hit me."
He informed Chambless, who told him to check it out. At the doctor, Berry got the MRI, which confirmed his suspicions: His ACL had been torn in August at Horn Lake.
From independence to dependence
On Oct. 8, Berry underwent surgery to repair his ACL. The procedure, which involved braiding two pieces of Berry's hamstring with the old ACL, took about an hour, and he was able to go home that day.
But he had to lie down and keep his leg straight for nearly a week, and around the house, the little things that used to be no big deal were no longer so easy.
"You really would be surprised at how much stuff you take for granted," Berry said. "It's more of a slower pace and more cautious at some things ... It's a lot more dependent than independent."
When he returned to school last Wednesday after West Point's fall break, his teachers had gotten the word. In each classroom, there was a chair or a stool at his desk so he could easily elevate his leg -- something Berry needed to do for 15-30 minutes at a time. Several classmates greeted him in the halls, saying he was in their thoughts, that they'd missed him.
"I've really got a lot of support in school and from teachers, and it's really been an easy transition for me," Berry said.
Berry got fitted for his custom leg brace Friday, allowing him to ditch his black metal crutches and put pressure on his leg again. He's just glad he had plenty of help in the interim.
"When you have people that are supporting you, and they love you, that really helps the mindset and gives you confidence to come back and be able to play with them again," Berry said.
'Things to look forward to'
Berry's support system goes deeper than his family and his teachers. Though Berry's final football season is prematurely over, Chambless is happy for the impact being a member of the Green Wave has had on Berry as he deals with his first serious injury.
"One thing that's touching to me is to hear him say that he wouldn't be able to face this mentally without having Green Wave football, because that's made him a better person," Chambless said. "That's touching to me and the coaches to know that we're at least trying to do right and get them physically and mentally tough, but to be able to put them through things to handle challenges the rest of their life. That's huge for me."
When Berry's injury was announced, his teammates and the West Point coaching staff quickly rallied around him.
"They really lifted me up," Berry said. "I had a lot of adults in the coaching staff and the players really lift me up and give me a lot of encouragement. That really helped."
Berry's ACL tear isn't West Point's first this season -- sophomore cornerback Fred McMillian went down in practice earlier this year with the same injury -- so Chambless and his staff know the impact a season-ending injury can have.
But McMillian has two years left at West Point, and he should be ready for spring football practice. Berry's athletic career is far from over, too.
"You have things to look forward to, and that drives you," Chambless said.
'You want to be out there'
Berry hopes his recovery will be complete within the expected six months.
Six months means March. March means baseball.
For Berry, the ace of West Point's pitching staff, being able to be back on the mound when the Green Wave hit district play is the goal. As a right-hander, he'll have to put his weight on the leg, something Berry knows won't be easy.
"But that's just where you just gotta trust the therapists and all the rehab that you've done for the last six months," Berry said. "And when they say that you're good to go, then you can just do nothing but trust it."
Six days after he tore his ACL against Horn Lake, Berry announced his commitment to Northeast Mississippi Community College to play baseball. He'll play catcher for the Tigers, and he doesn't expect his injury to limit him by the time he makes it to Booneville.
But for now, all Berry can do is watch his Green Wave teammates win from the sidelines.
"You want to be out there, especially with your team," Berry said. "It's district time, and it's this time of the year when West Point really starts rolling, and everything's starting to click, and success is starting to come our way."
Being unable to play brings on new feelings, Berry admitted, but he can still talk to Harris and West Point's wide receivers between drives. Berry said that helps him stay focused and feel part of the game.
For Harris, it doesn't matter whether or not Berry is playing. He's there, and that's enough.
"He's always gonna be on the sidelines," Harris said. "He's always gonna be with us."
Theo DeRosa reports on high school sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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