Just after the final play of spring football practice late in his freshman year, Franklin Garstin lay helplessly in a heap on the field.
The Montgomery Bell Academy senior linebacker shakes his head when asked to recall that awful day in mid-May of 2010.
“It was the last Saturday of spring practice,’’ he said this week. “I got hit funny and a couple of guys kind of helicoptered on me. I broke the fibula bone in my left leg, and I was rushed to St. Thomas hospital.’’
Those who were there said the leg looked so gruesome they threw a towel over the injured area. On the way to the hospital, the possibility flashed through Garstin’s mind that he might be facing an end to his football playing career.
But he had immediate support.
“Before the day was over, a lot of my teammates came by the hospital to offer encouragement and inspiration,” Garstin, who is also an outstanding wrestler, said. “I had a doctor tell me I would never play contact sports again.”
Garstin missed his entire sophomore season but didn’t let that deter him.
“I was in a full cast until late October, then I wore a help cast for another two months,” the redheaded Garstin said. “Then I started working out in earnest, and I re-joined the wrestling team late in the [sophomore] year. I did a lot of rehab, running those stairs in the stadium, lifting weights. I attended team meetings where I looked at film to keep up with what we were doing.
“My parents really encouraged me. My dad really made me work and stayed after me with the running and conditioning.”
Over the past year, Garstin has bench pressed 325 pounds and has improved his squat from 350 to 430 pounds.
All the hard work began to pay off. As a junior, he became one of the Big Red’s leading tacklers. Last February, he finished third at 182 pounds in the Division II state individual wrestling tournament.
“It was tough on me mentally, learning to get back, putting those pads back on for the first time,” Garstin said. “The biggest thing was my mental outlook, wondering if I was going to get hit wrong again. I had to get those thoughts out of my mind and just play football. After my junior year, I was at 100 percent.”
So far this season, the 6-foot, 190-pound Garstin has come on like gangbusters. Through four games, he is by far MBA’s leading tackler.
At times, it appears No. 33 is literally running sideline-to-sideline, chasing down opponents’ ball carriers. He also plays some fullback on offense where he serves as a blocker on running plays.
“Franklin is having an outstanding senior season so far,” second-year coach Marty Euverard said. “He’s one of our permanent captains, which speaks to his leadership.
“I wasn’t here when he suffered his injury. But I know Franklin is a hard worker, he’s spent a great deal of time in the weight room. He is one of our leaders and key members of our defense.”
Garstin is a Latin and Spanish medalist at school. The past June, he went on a 12-day church mission trip to Honduras. He plans to go back next June just after graduation.
“That was an awesome experience, working with the young girls,” he said. “We developed great relationships. One of the girls called me dad. I still get emotional thinking about that.”
As for the immediate task at hand, MBA (2-2) heads Friday to Battle Ground Academy, where the Big Red tries to avenge a loss to the Wildcats last year.
MBA comes off a stunning 24-20 victory last week over Baylor, rallying from a 20-10 fourth quarter deficit. Baylor beat the Big Red twice last year, once in the playoffs.
“Once we got in the huddle, everyone was saying ‘We can do it, we can do it,’ and [quarterback] Dylan [Hall] drove us for the winning TD,” Garstin said. “I think that win gave us the confidence that we can really finish the season strong.”
Garstin says he would like to continue playing football in college.
In his player bio, he lists Georgia as his favorite college/pro team but said he has a strong interest in Vanderbilt where some of his former teammates are playing. Besides that, he says a number of “small colleges" have expressed interest.
Playing football in college might not have even been considered an option a little over two years ago. That was when Garstin was staring at a hospital ceiling wondering if he would even play again.
It’s becoming a lot more of a reality these days.
Baylor at Ensworth
Brentwood at Ravenwood
Donelson Christian Academy at Knox Webb
Centennial at Independence
Christ Presbyterian Academy at Stratford
Ezell-Harding at Zion Christian
Glencliff at Whites Creek
Goodpasture at Westmoreland
Hillsboro at Franklin
Hillwood at Hunters Lane
Holy Cross, (Ky.) at Franklin Road Academy
McCallie at Father Ryan
McEwen at Nashville Christian School
McGavock at Antioch
Maplewood at Lipscomb Academy
Montgomery Bell Academy at Battle Ground Academy
Lancaster at Davidson Academy
Overton at Cane Ridge
Page at Summit
Pearl-Cohn at East Nashville
Pope John Paul II at Brentwood Academy