Adversity reveals a great deal about a person.
When it reared its ugly head on Trent Neavin's playing field, the Martins Ferry senior handled it like very few could. The Purple Riders' grid star exhibited character, determination and resolve well beyond his youthfulness.
Instead of sulking or pitying himself, Neavin went to work. Not only to mend his injured body, but also to help improve his teammates.
Neavin just saw his Purple Riders' grid career come to an end in disappointing fashion, as the Ferrians dropped a gut-wrenching overtime loss to arch-rival Bellaire. The setback cost Ferry a playoff berth, and a chance for Neavin to make up for lost time.
Neavin is a 5-11, 252-pound bull of a player. As a junior the fullback-linebacker earned a slew of accolades, including all-Ohio honors. He was primed for a stellar encore performance this fall, as Division I recruiters were calling, including Wisconsin and Pitt.
All that changed suddenly and painfully on a spring afternoon when he was pushing himself to get better during a workout. He made a quick burst, collapsing to the turf, writhing in pain. He had popped his achilles tendon, an injury, depending on its severity, that could prove career ending.
Neavin, however, is not your ordinary competitor. Be it an athletic contest or physical rehab, Neavin is always up to the challenge.
While still unsure of his injury's severity and relegated to crutches, Neavin displayed his boundless character by becoming an ad-hoc coach. He rounded up several of the younger high school players and ran them through various grid drills, all while he was incapacitated.
Albeit painful, Neavin recalls that fateful May day.
"There was a lot of pain when I first hurt it (achilles). I went to the emergency room. I was half-casted and initially it was thought to be only a partial tear," Neavin said. "The MRI revealed, however, that it was totally torn. I later had surgery at UPMC."
While the surgery put his workouts and training on hold, the two-way star realized he could still help the team in a different role.
"Even though I couldn't do anything physically, I still wanted to do what I could to help the team out," Neavin noted. "So I started working with the younger players, making them realize the benefits of hard work. I wanted to be a contributor even though I couldn't help at that point as a player."
Neavin personifies work ethic.
Martins Ferry coaching legend Dave Bruney has been coaching football for some 40 years, scripting a resume overflowing with success. His words carry clout.
"Through the years we have had countless players who have worked extremely hard," Bruney said. "But no one has ever worked harder than Trent. He and Chad Brinker have separated themselves in that regard."
That is borne out in Neavin's post-surgery rehab mission.
"I never took a day off after surgery. I rehabbed with Dr. Dave Edwards four days a week. I started walking in mid-July," Neavin said.
His workouts morphed from July walking into a rigorous August routine of relentless weightlifting and running. He would go to football practice to observe and help younger players, stay after and do his running and lifting before heading to more rehab with Dr. Edwards.
"After school started I wouldn't get home from football and rehabbing until 7 at night. I was with Dr. Edwards from August until just a few weeks ago," Neavin continued. "I cannot thank him enough."
Watching practice while injured is rough, standing on the sidelines in a real game is tough to stomach.
"I watched the first game, trying to come to grips that I was not playing," he said. "I didn't sulk about it, I instead went around on the sideline beating on helmets to get our players pumped up. I was into it as much as anyone else, I just wasn't on the playing field."
As games came and went, Neavin continued to toil religiously hour after hour under the radar. He stayed on the practice field, pushing himself harder and harder until Bruney would chase him out and lock up the gates. Neavin would then trek to Dr. Edwards' office for more work.
Neavin's exhaustive rehab finally reached paydirt in Week 9. He was cleared to play against St. Clairsville. He was limited to just offensive duty, playing 75 percent of the snaps.
"I had no fear about reinjuring it. I was trying to run too fast at the beginning," Neavin said. "Playing again felt natural. I knew all my assignments. It was great being able to hit people again."
The final week of the regular season is always a special one for the Purple Riders, as it is SPARKY time.
Neavin again suited up, playing primarily on offense. The game was one of the most exciting in series history, as the Big Reds pulled out an overtime win, ending Neavin's career all too quickly.
"It was very depressing. I wanted to make the playoffs again and extend my senior season as long as I could," Neavin said. "It wasn't the senior season I had anticipated, but I am a better man for what I went through."
No one knows better what Neavin endured than Bruney.
"It was unfortunate what happened to Trent. He handled it with class and showed no bitterness," Bruney said. "He is a man beyond his years. He understands the role of leadership.
"I have the utmost respect for Trent as a player and a person," Bruney added. "He is what every parent hopes their kids will be."
Neavin's story still may have a happy ending. He plans to walk on a Division I grid program, and to that effect, he has already had inquiries.
Kapral may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org