South Burlington (Vt.) senior Tanner Contois always knew he wanted to play football. What came as a surprise, was what he realized when he was sidelined from the game he loves.
Photos: Tanner's award presentation
In the Division I state playoffs of his senior season, Contois rushed for a combined four touchdowns and 476 yards in the two playoff wins that sent South Burlington to its first state championship game since 2007.
But in the state title showdown against Middlebury, Contois tore his ACL on the Rebels’ first play. Without its captain and offensive centerpiece (and his 11.8 yards-per-carry) South Burlington lost, 26-6.
“He was our go-to guy that we had game-planned around for a championship game,” head coach Joe McDonald said. “Tanner did his best to cheer on his team and be the leader he had been all year. It was really a shame he did not get the opportunity to show his talent in a championship game like he had dreamed of. Losing him definitely had an impact on the outcome.”
Although it robbed him of a chance to win a state title, Contois’ knee injury has had a positive outcome: He is now strongly considering a post-college career in sports medicine or sports psychology, and has already contributed to the growing movement for player safety and better health of student-athletes.
Thanks to his hard work, dedication and winning attitude, Contois is being honored with the USA TODAY High School Sports and Army National Guard Inspiration Award, which goes to 15 student-athletes across the nation.
“Going through this recovery has helped me realize what I want to do,” said Contois, who carries a 3.81 grade-point-average.
In 2013, the state of Vermont created a task force to study concussions and how they affected high school athletes as well as gauge the effect of the new state law enacted to educate coaches, officials and parents on the protocol for returning to field after a concussion.
South Burlington’s athletic trainer, Denise Alosa, was a member of the task force, which was comprised of several different medical experts. She viewed Contois as a great choice for the task force’s lone student representative.
Contois, who was already giving his time to worthy causes such as fundraising for breast cancer and ALS research, jumped at the chance. He was there to give feedback on concussions from an athlete’s perspective.
“He’s just a really inquisitive kid and when he would come into my office he always asked a lot of questions about a lot of things,” said Alosa, who has helped Contois rehab his knee. “I didn’t necessarily want a kid that had a personal experience with concussions, but one that I knew would be inquisitive enough to learn and would take it seriously and had played the sports.”
Thanks to fervent rehabbing of his knee, he should be ready to return to the gridiron next fall when he enrolls at nearby Middlebury College.
And he found a future career through his injury.
“I want to be a part of athletics still,” he said. “Helping athletes go through recovery in the season would be awesome.”