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Homecoming week at Roane County High School is supposed to be a happy time for the Kingston Yellow Jackets, but that hasn’t been the case this week as Brian Pankey’s squad is struggling emotionally to deal with a career-ending injury to teammate Seth Haynes.
Haynes, a sophomore, suffered a broken neck in last week’s game at Sequoyah, and although his long-term prognosis is good, his coaches and teammates are missing No. 10.
“It’s been awkward this week,” Jacket junior lineman Bryson Ashford said. “There hasn’t been a lot of laughter and joy on our team. There’s a hole on our team right now. Seth is a part of our family, not just a teammate, he’s family and it has affected us all. Seth is the one that is always laughing and playing around. We’re glad he’s safe and going to be able to walk again, but we miss him.”
“It’s been really hard,” fellow sophomore Paul Bolden added. “He’s been my best friend since we’ve been little and it’s tough seeing him like this. He’s always loved playing football and he always makes us laugh. I think once we see him up and walking around that we’ll be better, but till that happens it’s going to be hard to focus.”
Focusing, however, is something the Jackets still have to do as they have a game to play Friday against Sweetwater.
“I really don’t know how they’ll react,” Kingston head coach Brian Pankey said. “Practice was somber on Monday. I don’t know if that’s a positive or negative, but the kids weren’t saying a lot. There’s been a lot of reflecting. This has been really tough on Seth, but it could have been a lot worse.”
“Practice was quieter and everybody at school is devastated,” Bolden added. “It’s hard to believe that this could happen to such a likeable kid.”
While Haynes’ injury has led to a lot of tears in the Kingston locker room, it has also led to something else, motivation. The Jackets are winless on the season, but they want to win Friday’s game for one reason and one reason only, Haynes.
“I told them that Friday’s game is non-negotiable, we’ve got to win,” Pankey said. “This season is obviously not what we wanted with our record and now with Seth. Our seniors, players and community are all striving for a win for Seth and I think we can get it done. We’ve just got to go out and make it happen.”
“A team is only as strong as its weakest link and right now our weakest link is being stronger than any of us in a hospital,” Ashford added. “If Seth can show that much courage in the hospital, we should be able to show it as well on the field.”
“I think everyone is going to play better,” Bolden said. “We all know how much he loves football and wants to win. Knowing he’s never going to play again, we’ve got to win this one for him.”