BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. - The Kokomo High School athletic program took a devastating hit when star football and basketball player Tayler Persons suffered a torn ACL, an injury that will keep him off the football field for the rest of the season. The injury occurred on a run during the second half of the Fort Wayne Wayne game in week two of the season. And according to Persons, he knew right away something was not right.
“When it happened, I knew there was something seriously wrong. I have never really been injured, but I knew it wasn’t good,” he said. “But when they told me it was a torn ACL, I was down for a bit but then I went into a mode of how strong I was going to come back. I want to come back stronger than ever. God has a plan for everything, and I know he has a plan.”
When Persons didn’t get up from the hit near the sideline, many on the Kokomo side of the Wayne press box cringed. We all know how tough of a competitor he is, and while he may be slow to get up after some plays – he always gets up. But not this time. The Wildkat training staff helped him limp to the sideline and most of us had a sinking suspicion that this was a serious injury. Persons was the heart and soul of the Kats, but even injured, he knows he has a role. He said that while he is not going to be on the field, the Kats team captain can still play a vital role with his leadership and experience.
“Right now, I have to be a leader,” said Persons, who predicts he will have surgery at the end of September. “I have to be a coach. I am going to be out there with them every day, including basketball. I am going to help them out with anything they need.”
But just how important can one person be to an athletic program? Persons was the starting quarterback and free safety for the Wildkats. He played in 33 games during his four seasons, rushing for 694 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also passed for another 847 yards and 11 scores. But while he steadily led the double wing offense, it was on defense that he was an absolute monster. He tallied 245 tackles – fourth most in school history and well on pace to break Curt Hutchins record of 299. He also had 114 assisted tackles (second all-time) and five interceptions and was also a member of the 2010 and 2011 North Central Conference champions.
On the basketball floor, Persons was a contender for the title of Indiana Mr. Basketball and has already committed to play at Northern Kentucky University – a school he says is 100 percent behind him during this injury. He has 913 career points and was on pace to finish third in school history behind Wildkat legends Goose Ligon and Jimmy Rayl. In three seasons, he helped lead Kokomo to a 65-11 record, including a 22-3 record and the NCC title last year. He was also a key member of the 2011 IHSAA Class 4A state runners-up squad and was a 2013 Indiana Junior All-Star performer.
Yes, he was that important. He was the difference between Kokomo winning and losing against Muncie Central last Friday night. And his loss will be the difference in many more games during the rest of the 2013-2014 athletic season. Many Kokomo fans have asked if this is the last we will see of the crowd favorite.
“My number one goal is to get back 100 percent for my college season,” said Persons. “But a main goal is to come back and play with my team at the end of the (basketball) season. Even if it is only for five or 10 minutes, I have a goal to be back.”
Knowing the work ethic of Tayler Persons, he might just show up on the court at Memorial Gymnasium come late February 2014 – and I for one would love to see him play once again. Until then, this is a prime opportunity for Wildkat athletes to step up and fill the void left by Persons. Much like Luis Ascencio did Friday night when he rushed for 56 yards and a touchdown. Who is Luis Ascencio? I have no idea – I have to admit I had never heard of the 5-6, 165 pound sophomore and had to look him up in the program. But I will inquire about him this week – and I bet there will be more Kats who dig deep and pick up the slack of their downed leader.
Until next time, remember to keep the man and ship in sports – and I’ll see you at the game.
Dean Hockney is the owner/publisher of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana and sports editor of the Kokomo Herald. His column can be found each week on the last page of the Sports Journal. You can follow Hockney on Twitter (@Sports_Journal).