When Oconee County High School senior Ben Noland trots out into formation for the Warriors in the 2019 Hog Mountain Bowl on Friday night there will be few who see anything other than number three lining up for a play.
They’ll see the knee brace. They’ll see the plays he makes or doesn’t make. They may see the little grin from the Warriors’ head coach Travis Noland as he watches his son display courage as he sets out to finish the race he started four years ago.
The thing that won’t be seen is the importance of being on the field with the Warriors on Friday night as they attempt to win their first region championship since 2015 for the youngest Noland.
There are many lonely weekends and nights of rehab that goes along with the knee brace. Ben has seen his football career nearly ended two years in a row. An Anterior Cruciate Ligament tears robbed him of his sophomore season.
Then Ben was forced to watch last season as many of his teammates suffered injuries only for him to suffer another ACL tear and be forced to again watch the Warriors from the sidelines.
“He’s very deserving,” Travis said. “There has been a lot of nights and weekends down here on Saturday with him doing his little band steps and doing all these rehab exercises that nobody sees to get himself through. Hopefully, he can finish it out and good things will continue to happen for him and be a part of the team.”
In last season’s Hog Mountain Bowl Noland remembers it being especially painful to watch. Thoughts of how he could have helped haunted him.
“It was really hard just knowing that I could have been out there doing something different,” Ben said. “I might have not made the play, but I could have helped the team out.”
In his disappointment and the daunting climb that is the rehab process of a torn ACL Ben just put his head down and worked toward returning for a third time.
Now fully aware that 2019 was his last shot at high school football, Travis feels his son has done the work to not feel any regrets with however the season ends, whether it be by injury or by defeat.
His father, Travis, has noticed the good that has come from his son’s plight. In the nearly three years of battling injuries Ben has grown comfortable in his own skin. The person that has come out on the other side is one Travis takes pride in.
“The thing I’m the most proud of is that he’s a good person,” Travis said. “He’s a very tenderhearted guy. He doesn’t say a whole lot. He’s very quiet and reserved. When you go through that, you find out so much about yourself. It’s been a struggle for him for three years. I think he’s found some peace within himself that he knows that he’s given it everything he has. If it doesn’t work out or it ended tomorrow at practice or Friday night against North Oconee, I don’t think he would ever have any regrets. I know the time, energy and effort that he’s put into it. In that, I think he’s found peace within himself. That’s why he’s comfortable with who he is no matter where he is or no matter who he’s around.”
For Ben, getting to Friday has been the hard part. His brothers Zeb and Abe were both on the 2015 team that won the region championship. Now Ben relishes the opportunity to follow in their footsteps.
“It’s a big challenge and it’s going to be fun,” Ben said. “I’m glad I’m getting the chance to do it and try to follow in their footsteps.”