Freshman receiver Levar Patton was running a reverse play during a Weddington High football practice four years ago when he was tackled and fell awkwardly.
Patton’s right leg was badly injured, the sight of it gruesome.
“At first I didn’t feel anything,” Patton recalled this week. “I was in shock.”
He remembers his father Haskel racing to him, urging him to remain still and to relax. Haskel Patton remained calm for his son, whose right ankle and knee were badly mangled.
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Four years ago on that practice field, Levar Patton’s life changed. What followed him has been six surgeries, two limb-threatening infections, and the pain, just trying to return to playing football.
“Honestly, I just love the game,” said Patton, 18.
Patton family’s passion for football
Football is in the Patton family’s blood. Levar’s father was a quarterback on Ashbrook High’s 1974 N.C. 4A championship team. His uncle, Scottie, is entering his 14th year as the New Orleans Saints head athletic trainer.
Levar shares their passion for football, and four years ago Levar was excited about starting his high school career at Weddington. Then his world flipped just weeks before his freshman season.
Instead of playing football, he endured six surgeries to repair a broken fibula, a broken tibula and a cracked ankle. His leg became so severely swollen that he needed emergency surgery to save it.
Eventually, doctors placed metal rods inside his leg and on the outside. He had screws in his ankle and hardware in his kneecap. Patton lost 26 pounds and missed nearly the entire school year. Weddington sent a teacher to his home to help with his studies.
His sophomore year wasn’t much better. His father took him to games in a wheelchair, but Patton’s Type 1 diabetes was slowing his recovery. On away games, teams would frequently pick up Patton and his father on a motorized cart to take them to the field.
But during the season, Patton developed a nasty infection, requiring him to receive antibiotics three times a day at home. He attended school part-time, doing his work in the media center because he wasn’t strong enough to walk the halls.
“That year,” Haskel Patton said, “really took a toll on him.”
Another painful season missed
By his junior season in 2014, Patton was moving better and attended training camp with the Weddington team at Wingate University. But the day the team returned, Patton faced another setback.
“He was screaming and hollering in his room,” Haskel Patton said. “He has a high tolerance for pain. I knew something was wrong.”
Doctors at Carolinas Medical Center in Waxhaw did blood work and found signs of another infection. Patton ended up at Levine’s Children’s hospital in Charlotte, where doctors removed the hardware from his leg. Again, he missed considerable time in the classroom -- and his entire football season. Weddington played on, reaching the N.C. 3AA championship game.
“I never thought about quitting,” he said. “I always thought about coming back to play every time something happened.”
By spring 2015 - toward the end of his junior year - Patton was back working out with teammates and had bulked up to 170 pounds. In July, doctors cleared him to play football.
He was focused on playing in a real game for the first time.
Healthy and back on the field
Patton played last month in the Warriors’ season opener, a 30-13 come-from-behind win against Ardrey Kell. He’s been a part of all three Weddington wins and hopes to play Friday when the Warriors face visiting Union County rival Monroe (3-0).
Said Lavar Patton’s father Haskel: “He could’ve very easily quit and walked away. I made it clear that he doesn’t have to play football anymore, but this young man fought and battled back, setback after setback and he still has the desire to want to play.”
Weddington coach Tim Carson also marvels at the player’s determination.
“His courage to get back has been great,” Carson said. “He’s done such a good job and worked so hard to get back.”
Levar Patton said he plans to enjoy every minute of this season.
“I want to play because...the people who helped me, I want to see them smile and say ‘It was worth it’ for helping me,” Patton said. “Everybody knows how bad I wanted to get back. I just love this game.
“I don’t know why I love it so much. But I’ve played it all my life. It’s all I know.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; @langstonwertzjr