By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Before the season began, one question lingered around the Stillwater High School football team. How would quarterback Braxton Noble’s left shoulder hold up?
Six weeks in, the shoulder is fine — perhaps even stronger than ever. His left leg, though? That’s another story.
Noble’s season may have come to an early end for the second straight season Friday. According to the junior quarterback’s Twitter feed conversation with Stillwater running back Ty Smith, Noble tore his anterior cruciate ligament during a scramble on fourth-and-4 of Stillwater’s opening drive of the second half against Booker T. Washington.
“It’s a bad situation but it happens all the time,” Barnard said. “I feel the worst for Braxton. He has worked so hard and put so much time in to being the best quarterback that he can be and the best leader that he can be. It’s just heartbreaking to see a kid who looks like his season is going to get cut short again. Nobody deserves that, but it is one of the things that happens. I just hate it for Braxton more than anything. We’ll move on and figure it out and do the best we can, but he’s going to be the one watching practice every day and not get to participate.”
For Barnard, Noble’s injury is an all-to-familiar sight. It was on a similar play last year against Tulsa Union where Noble scrambled to the near sideline and injured the shoulder in his non-throwing arm, effectively ending his season near midfield.
Now, the Pioneers will once again be without their primary signal-caller with seemingly every game becoming a must-win if Stillwater wants to have any shot at the playoffs.
“When it comes to replacing anybody at any position, you’ve got the guy there because you think that’s the guy that needs to be there,” Barnard said. “We certainly think that we’ve got people that can come in and be effective. We’ve got other guys that are good athletes. We don’t have anybody that can do the same type of things that Braxton can do, but we’ve got guys that can do different things than Braxton. We’ll just come in and put together a plan, figure out what that is and do the best we can.”
Noble may be done for the season, but all hope isn’t necessarily lost just yet. Replacing Noble will likely be senior Jon Littell, who was originally slated to be Stillwater’s quarterback last season before opting not to play football.
“It’s a killer, but it’s not as big of a killer as you’d think it would be,” Stillwater junior Marlon McDonald said Friday. “We have a nice little backup in Jon Littell. He’s going to turn into a good quarterback. He’s going to be everything we need. He’s a good quarterback.”
“We’re not going to ask anybody that comes in to be Braxton,” Barnard said. “We’re going to ask them to come in and do the things we think they can do.”
You could say being a quarterback runs through Littell’s blood. His older brother, Jerame Littell, holds most of Stillwater’s passing records and was part of a 2011 team that shared a district championship with Union.
And chances are Jon Littell will be seeking all advice he can get — not only from big brother, but from anybody — as he prepares to lead the Pioneers through four crucial games over the next four weeks.
“Jon has some of the built-in characteristics of a quarterback and a leader of the football team,” Barnard said. “He’s such a hard worker, he’s a fierce competetitor and a great leader. He does all the things that you’re looking for out of your quarterback position. I think it helps that he’s done a little bit of it and if you asked him, he’d probably tell you he wanted to be a quarterback all his life.
“He’s lived with a kid who played quarterback for four years at Stillwater High School. I don’t know in terms of on the field play how much that will be a factor, but it is likely to be a factor that Jon has lived with a kid that had to deal with all of those pressures, so he has a little bit of understanding.”
As for Noble, Barnard said the junior quarterback is recovering and is awaiting an MRI appointment to see if he will need surgery. Barnard said the expected recovery time for an ACL tear is approximately six to eight months, which means he could be healthy and ready to practice by the time Stillwater begins spring practices next season.
“Every kid is different,” Barnard said. “They all heal differently but I think in general it’s probably somewhere between six and eight months if it is truly an ACL tear. He’ll be out for the season and we’ll be hopeful that he’ll be back in time for spring ball.”
But for now, the Pioneers will still use Noble in a different capacity — as a coach and a rallying point for the remainder of this season.
“I think it was definitely a shot in the arm to us when Braxton went out on Friday,” Barnard said. “It hurt us emotionally, but it could very well be something of a rallying point. We just have to go out and do the best we can and play to win.”