Mark Legette feels the pain. Every loss hurts.
The J.L. Mann football team has lost 17 consecutive games, and Legette, a Patriots senior, has felt the sting of every last one of them.
“We’ve lost so much, and I hate to lose,” he said. “I’m the most competitive person.”
“I know it’s heartbreaking for him to see our season not going very well right now,” said senior defensive lineman Jamal Smith. “He’s the type of guy who brings everybody up in bad times.”
The irony is that Legette hasn’t played in any of the losses – or the wins – because when he attempted to play, he couldn’t feel anything.
Legette, 18, has watched the action from his wheelchair. He has cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that causes physical disability in human development.
Inspired by Kos Benham, a former J.L. Mann student who played C team football despite having lost both of his legs in a train accident, Legette gave the sport a shot in the spring of his freshman year, when Benham was helping to coach the C team.
“The difference between Mark and Kos was Mark has legs but they don’t work. Kos didn’t have legs and everything else worked,” said Max Clymer, the Patriots’ C team coach and a special education teacher at the school.
“We were doing a blocking drill, and Mark was getting blocked, and he was pushing back, but his leg was starting to bend and he didn’t even feel it, so it was like, ‘Mark, something’s going to snap.’ “
“Kos gave me the idea of being manager, so I hopped on with C team,” Legette said. “It was pretty fun.”
He’s been with the team ever since, having joined the varsity as a sophomore. He’s on the sideline with the Patriots for home and away games.
Legette shares a No. 12 jersey with his buddy, Mann junior quarterback Nathan Reilly, wearing Reilly’s home jersey when the team is on the road and vice versa.
“He’s at the front or the back every game when we come out,” Clymer said. “Someone will be pushing him out. That boy’s been toppled over a few times. He got wiped out on the sidelines once. He’s just like one of the coaches. He’s not immune.”
“I like having him on the sidelines, because he has that attitude that you want around you,” said Smith. “To know that he wants to play, but he just watches, and he still comes, that’s amazing to me. I know he’d kill to play.”
Nontheless, Legette said he’s grateful for the experience.
“I can probably keep it forever,” he said, “because I don’t think I’ll ever experience it again – at the high school level, I should say.”
That’s because he’d like to experience it again at the college level.
“I’m hoping to go to Alabama and be on the sidelines at Tuscaloosa and study biochemistry and maybe come back to Mann and teach chemistry so I can coach football,” he said.
But first things, first. Tonight is senior night, and Mann will host Westside. Both teams are 0-7 overall and 0-3 in Region 1-AAAA.
Legette will be honored with the others seniors, but that’s not foremost in his mind.
“I hope we win,” he said. “That’s the main thing. I don’t care about being a senior and it’s my last year. I hope we win. That’s the only thing that matters.
“It’s not on my bucket list in high school to lose on senior night.”