When Wilson Memorial senior Brandon Gochenour decided to get Tommy John surgery midway through his football season a year ago, he made two important decisions.
The first was understanding the reality of what he would be giving up: the rest of his football and baseball seasons in 2013-14.
The second decision wasn’t all that hard to understand.
It was the idea that he wanted to get healthy, to avoid playing through injury, and to ultimately have an opportunity to play two more seasons in football and baseball as a senior before he finished off his career as a Green Hornet.
And yet, he wasn’t so sure about football, since it hinged on his ability to heal quickly enough. He entered the summer knowing that maybe it wasn’t in the cards.
Then came this: surprisingly, amid the recovery and rehabilitation for his surgery this past spring, Gochenour found that he was good at golf.
“It was all I could play for six months,” he said.
He became so good, even hiring a private coach in North Carolina in July, that it only made sense to join the golf team this fall.
“Considering he’s only played golf for one year,” Wilson Memorial head coach Rob Hopkins said, “he’s phenomenal.”
In a sport requiring years of experience and precision, Gochenour has, in the shortest way of saying it, become a natural. He shot a career-best 78 on his own, and this week nabbed two 82s for the Green Hornets before finishing with an 87 on Thursday. In five outings for Wilson, he’s shown improvement in nearly every match.
Hopkins said he’s only getting better with time and that he hits the ball as well as anyone off the tee — a good 280 yards on most shots.
But it brings up the larger problem when the conference championships roll around. He’ll be playing football.
As it stands, Gochenour finds himself trying to please two programs at the same time.
Here’s the problem: When Gochenour first got Tommy John surgery on his right arm, he was under the impression that the ligaments wouldn’t heal in time for football. He could golf, because it avoided the twisting and turning of his arm. But when it came to football and the contact that came along with it, he didn’t want to risk getting hurt before baseball season.
Then he got cleared by the end of July by doctors. Football was in weeks, and Gochenour wasn’t quite sure what to do.
He ultimately decided a little too late in the process — ultimately saying yes and informing head coach Jeremiah Major days before the season, but only after committing to golf.
By then, Hopkins knew how much of an asset Gochenour was for the team. He told the senior he wanted him to be with the squad through the first weeks of district golf tournaments, even though it fell on the same week as the first days of football practice.
It split the senior two ways, and ultimately, he couldn’t be all things at once.
Gochenour wanted to be part of the football team, even if that meant as a safety or tight end and not as quarterback, where as a sophomore he stepped in for injured starter Mack Cullen and helped the Green Hornets almost reach the state championship game.
But then came golf, knotting the situation into a amalgam of interconnected wires.
No one can blame Gochenour for wanting to do all both, for wanting to help his golf team and the football squad.
But the decision has come with a set of qualifiers now, too: football won’t just hand him a roster spot, even if they know why he did what he did.
Having missed the first week of practice because of golf commitments, Gochenour is currently fighting for a roster spot and technically isn’t on the team just yet. Despite two years of solid play, there is no seniority.
As a matter of fairness, Green Hornets head coach Jeremiah Major said Gochenour needs to prove he belongs on the team.
The rest of his teammates poured sweat into the Bermuda grass, scraped knees, bloodied elbows and powered through that always difficult first week of practice.
Major wants him to make up the work he missed. And Gochenour understands that.
“I always work hard, and yeah, I do need to prove myself because I don’t think it’s fair to the other players who worked hard during those two-a-days,” Gochenour said. “I’m going to work my butt off to make it up.”
This week, he began to make sacrifices to show others he does, in fact, care.
On Monday, after playing 18 holes at Shenvalee in New Market and shooting a team-leading 82, Gochenour rushed back to Fishersville with his dad to make practice later that evening.
He doubled up again on Tuesday, shooting another 82 before making it back to football practice.
On Wednesday, he was back on the football field without pads, sweating through a black T-shirt and shorts, hoping to impress his teammates and coaches.
But the story doesn’t end there just yet.
While Thursday marked the end of Shenandoah District golf mini-tournament play, there’s still one more major conference tournament on the schedule in September. Gochenour still needs to be available for that, and pending whether the Green Hornets qualify, possibly even for regionals, too.
That means he may miss more football practice, or he may not, considering the lengths he’s gone through already to make sure he’s in the good graces of those around him.
This much is true: this fall, while Gochenour can’t be all things at once, he’s sure trying to make sure he is.