By Steve Gunn
If you have character and will power, you get over the disappointment, work hard to get healthy, fight to reclaim your spot, then prove once again that you deserve it.
Whitehall senior quarterback Andrew Durbin has now accomplished all of those things, after his 2019 season ended far too early due to a nasty ankle break.
Durbin got off to a great start last year as the brand new starting QB for the Vikings. He rushed for 219 yards and two touchdowns in a season-opening loss to Parma Western, and 136 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 2 win against Hart.
Then came Week 3, when the Vikings faced powerful Oakridge in a key West Michigan Conference matchup. Oakridge led 17-9 late in the fourth quarter, and Whitehall had the ball and was driving, hoping to score a touchdown and then tie the game and force overtime with a two-point conversion.
Durbin rolled out for a pass, then decided to scramble. He was tackled and the Oakridge kid who caught him landed on his right ankle.
He knew immediately that something was very wrong. He broke the ankle in three different places, tore a bunch of ligaments, and had to have surgery about a week later. His season was definitely over, and he knew the road back would be daunting.
“I had spent the whole summer before my junior year working to earn the quarterback spot,” Durbin said. “I worked really hard for it, so it was devastating when that happened. I was mostly in bed for two or three weeks (after surgery), unable to move very much, then I was on crutches for a long time before I could start walking on it.”
The rest of the 2019 football season brought another type of pain for Durbin, as he watched teammate after teammate go down with injuries, and saw his once-promising team come unraveled. The Vikings ended up losing to Oakridge and four other teams, and finished with a very uncharacteristic 3-6 record.
The disappointing year ended a streak of five straight seasons when Whitehall won at least six games and qualified for the state playoffs.
“It really hurt me just to see the team falling apart,” Durbin said. “Different people had to play different positions that they weren’t ready for. It was hard to go to practice and watch and not be able to compete with my teammates and help them.”
Whitehall head coach Tony Sigmon said all the injuries equaled a lot of frustration.
“We have three or four guys in that locker room right now who went through similar circumstances (as Durbin),” the coach said. “Any time you have three season-ending surgeries, it’s hard. We had to grit our teeth and get through it.”
Durbin could have been lost in self-pity, and wasted his time wringing his hands over something that couldn’t be helped. But he knew he had another season of football ahead of him, and he was determined to win his job back, so he spent months doing daily physical therapy and working out on his own to regain full use of his ankle.
He was healthy enough by January to join the Whitehall basketball team, although he was not 100 percent and didn’t play a great deal. But he kept pushing himself throughout the spring and summer, and by the time football practice started in August, he was completely ready to go.
Despite having a healthy ankle, there was one more challenge standing between him and the quarterback position he had been forced to vacate. After his injury last season, sophomore Brody Fogus stepped in, did a good job under tough circumstances, and was ready to compete with Durbin to be the starter this year.
Durbin said he learned about a week before last week’s season opener that he had won the position back. Fogus was named a starting wide receiver on offense and safety on defense.
Durbin said the competition for the job was fierce, and he had to work hard to earn it. Unfortunately Fogus sprained an ankle in practice last week and missed the Ravenna game, but is expected back within a few weeks.
“He was great, he worked really hard,” Durbin said about Fogus. “He motivated me a lot. He pushed me, I pushed him. It went back and forth. I wouldn’t have been surprised whoever they decided the starter would be.”
When the delayed season finally began last Friday, Durbin and the Vikings were eager to show what they could do with a healthy, experienced lineup, featuring eight returning starters on offense and seven on defense.
They accomplished that goal with an exclamation point, clobbering Ravenna 48-0 after losing to the Bulldogs 41-13 last season, the week after Durbin was injured.
Durbin was sharp, throwing for 129 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 33 yards. Both TD passes came in the second quarter, on a 10-yard toss to Mario Moore and a 52-yard completion to Nate Bolley.
“We were all ready and very confident, and wanted to just go out and kick some butt,” Durbin said. “A few different kids, like me and two or three other guys who got hurt last season, knew we had to go out and show what we could do. We missed a lot last year.”
Sigmon credits Durbin for working hard to make a complete comeback, and said he looked great against Ravenna.
“He did a really nice job last week running our veer offense, and I think his passing game was the most eye-opening thing,” the coach said.
Sigmon said both Durbin and Fogus had good preseason camps, and both players bring a lot to the team.
“Both kids were doing wondering things,” he said. “We felt like we had a 1 and a 1A at quarterback. Brody is an excellent football player in his own right. I remember telling them over the summer, one of them would be the starting quarterback, and one would be a two-way starter.
“We do have a nice luxury here, with two kids who can run our offense and play at a high level.”
With the season opener a success, the Vikings want to keep rolling, starting with their conference game against Shelby on Friday. Durbin thinks his team has what it takes to contend for the title in the West Michigan Conference, which has been dominated by Oakridge and Montague in recent years.
Moe than anything, the Vikings want to prove that last year was a fluke.
“I think we have more potential than last year,” Durbin said. “We have better chemistry with each other, and the guys on this team hate losing more than they love winning. We’re definitely ready to go out there and prove everyone wrong.”