Senior lineman Tristan Mitchell lay sprawled on the couch in his downtown Mill Valley home on an unusually hot September Friday afternoon. The heat was especially bothersome for the physically imposing 17-year-old, as the entirety of his outstretched right leg was suffocated by a post-surgery cast.
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Mitchell said, flashing his bearded grin, an admission to the undeniable fact that it is indeed as bad as it looks. On Saturday, September 2 during a 48-0 rout of Balboa High, he suffered a catastrophic season-ending knee injury, tearing his ACL, MCL, and medial meniscus.
“I was playing [Defensive] tackle, and it was a run play up the middle,” Mitchell said, “I met the running back in the hole, and one of our linebackers went low to finish the tackle, as he should. His helmet glanced off the runner and completely took out my knee. I was able to finish the tackle, but then I couldn’t get up, I knew something was wrong.”
Though Mitchell and his teammates were optimistic that he would walk away with a bad sprain, the MRI revealed the worst. The injury came on the heels of Mitchell gaining countywide respect from MCAL coaches, being identified as a top a defensive lineman this season. For the Hawks, his absence will not be an easy void to fill.
“Schematically it will affect us greatly. There’s not another player in this league like Tristan,” head coach Matthew LemMon said. “From an emotional standpoint, it’s hit our guys hard. Everyone is realizing he won’t play [for us] again and that every snap counts for them.”
Being away from the game, even for these past few weeks, has been unbearable for Tristan. Between the constant physical pain,and the reality of his situation setting in, the mental struggle has taken a toll.
“I consider being an athlete a huge part of my identity, and not having that anymore, I feel like I’m not me,” he said.
This is not uncommon among injured athletes. Kids spend so much time and energy preparing to perform in their respective sports to the point where a season ending injury is a massive blow to their mental state, too. Although he can’t be with his teammates on the field, he has started regularly attending practices and games.
Mitchell said, “It helps to be around the guys and I still want to be as involved as I can be.”
Finding ways to impact his team and the game while sidelined is Mitchell’s next challenge. He believes he will be valuable as a pair of eyes and a confidant for his teammates.
Mitchell expressed an envy of his healthy peers, and urged them to make the most of their good fortune.