A 38-25 loss to Wayne County last week stung the Statesboro Blue Devils.
What hurts even more is the potential loss of a team leader.
Midway through the first quarter, the Devils chased down a Wayne County ball carrier on a long run. While three SHS players were able to make the tackle, senior defensive back Wesley Budgett was on the ground 30 yards away, clutching his left knee in pain.
“I saw a guy coming to block me and tried to avoid him,” Budgett said. “I just landed on my leg weird. I knew that something was wrong. I was mostly just worried about not being able to play.”
Budgett was helped off the field and immediately taken to the locker room.
He has undergone an MRI on his knee, but is still awaiting results as to the extent of his injury.
Budgett was on his feet and walking to and from classes Tuesday, albeit slowly and with a bit of a limp. He said that he wasn’t in a lot of pain, but that he was still approaching everything very cautiously.
The physical pain will be an obstacle for Budget to overcome. For the rest of the Devils any time spent without No. 5 on the field would be a big mental hurdle.
Following Friday’s loss, SHS coach Steve Pennington was able to shake off defeat much more easily than the thought of one of his players being injured.
“Wesley is the heart and soul of our team,” Pennington said. “At halftime, he wasn’t thinking about his injury. He was worried about our players and how he could encourage them.
“I’m pretty old in this business. I’ve seen a lot, and to see something like that is as rewarding as any victory.”
Whether the injury is serious or minor, it will be some time before Budgett suits up. He spent most of Monday’s practice in the trainer’s room and won’t do anything with the leg until a clear diagnosis is known.
Despite Budgett being able to walk without crutches, there is no guarantee as to when — or if — he’ll be able to return.
A season-ending injury during his senior year would be devastating, but so long as there is a chance of returning, that’s what he’ll have his mind set on.
And whether or not he can return to action, Budgett still has the upbeat attitude for himself and his teammates that have his coaches so impressed.
“I would do anything that my coaches or teammates ask of me,” Budgett said. “Knowing that everyone is concerned about me just makes me want to try that much harder to get back out there.
“In the meantime, our younger guys have to keep their heads up. In this game, there’s always going to be adversity. They need to fight through and get better each day.”
If the injury turns out to be minor, Statesboro’s bye week this week could mean that Budgett misses minimal time. That would be optimal as the Devils finish out the regular season with eight consecutive games —all within Region 3-AAAAA and all determining Statesboro’s postseason fate.
“We’ve had our struggles, but you can’t ever count Statesboro out,” Budgett said. “I know we’re going to keep working and keep improving. I just hope I can get healthy and be a part of it.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.