La Salle-Peru senior lineman D.J. Wilmot has not played a single down this season.
That hasn’t stopped him from being one of the Cavaliers’ team leaders.
And when the Cavs take to the field at Howard Fellows Stadium this Friday in a key Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division matchup against archrival Ottawa for their final home game of the season, Wilmot will lead his teammates through the tunnel although he won’t see action in the game.
Wilmot, a three-year member of the varsity who started on the line last fall, regrets missing his senior season on the gridiron.
But while he has been unable to participate in the sport he loves, he’s grateful what at first was thought to be a run-of-the-mill injury did not turn out much worse.
“Back in June, we were doing summer workouts. We were running stairs in our stadium and I pulled my calf muscle,” recalled the Cavalier lineman.
Determined to work through the pain, Wilmot pushed himself to continue his conditioning “and I really never let my leg heal. … It was a big mistake.”
After an MRI and diagnosis of micro-tears in his calf, Wilmot sought treatment with the rehab team at City Center, but the problem persisted.
Alarmed with his progress, the City center staff told D.J. he should seek further examination.
“I talked to Gina (Martin), my trainer, and my leg wouldn’t stop swelling so she sent me to my family doctor,” Wilmot said.
What his family physician discovered turned out to be a lot more serious than a pulled muscle.
“This turned out being very scary. We rushed to do chest X-ray, CAT Scan, and they found what he had was deep-veined thrombosis, which is a blod clot in his leg,” explained D.J.’s mother, Brigette. “Had we not found that he would have played football and that could have resulted in a pulmonary embolism, which can kill you.”
Instantly, his senior season was over before it started.
But looking back, D.J. is thankful the football campaign was the only battle he lost.
“If I would have kept playing, it could have broke off and gone to my heart. It could have killed me,” he said.
Despite his injury, Wilmot has remained an active member of the team.
“It’s an unfortunate situation for anybody when they get hurt, especially in the summertime when you can’t even have a chance to compete your senior year,” L-P coach Joe Sassano said. “Especially for a kid like D.J., who’s put so much of his heart and soul into it. He’s enjoyed it and worked really hard. He’s just a great person. You just hate to see those things happen.
“However, he’s dealt with it in an exceptional way. He’s at every practice and every game and meeting, just doing everything like he’s been playing and practicing every day. I think he means a lot to the team by just being there and being in the locker room and being around every day. It’s been a quite leadership role I guess you’d say.”
Wilmot’s clot is shrinking, but the blood thinners he uses make taking to the field to risky of an endeavor, even though the competitor in him longs to be back on the gridiron with his team.
“It’s really tough,” Wilmot admits. “I’m a good athlete and a competitor. I really want to be out there. It’s tough to be on the sidelines.”
But, even if it’s just for a moment before the first kick, when Wilmot leads his band of brothers onto the gridiron Friday, he’ll finally have the chance to suit up with his team.
“It’s going to mean the whole world to me after going through all this. It’s really going to make it worthwhile for me,” Wilmot said.
Sassano said that he hoped Wilmot’s commitment to the team would leave a lasting legacy with the underclassmen in the program.
“You’ve got to believe that people are going to see that and notice it and hopefully get something from it,” Sassano said. “He’s been there every day. He’s been highly involved. He gets involved with things off the field and gets involved with the community.
“It means a lot, because it’s not always about wins and losses. There’s definitely a bigger picture in high school sports. To see the kind of character and characteristics develop in him — he’s been there for four years now — that’s really what it’s all about because those are the things that he’s going to carry with him the rest of his life.”
Chris Yucus is a NewsTribune Sports Writer. He can be reached at 220-6995, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.