LOWELL | The Mark of the Beast in Lowell is on black cloth with red trim. It is No. 66, worn by senior two-way lineman Tyler Wright.
On offense he plays right guard. On defense he plays defensive end on the left side.
On every play, though, Wright is one of the toughest, strongest, hardest-hitting young men in the region.
And in the "Year of the Injury," or what this season has turned into, no one is happier to be on the field than Wright.
Last year, in Week 3 at The Inferno, Wright was chasing a Kankakee Valley player and his knee cap popped out. Showing his R.D.P., Wright snapped it back in place and ran off the field.
"I put it back in place and it felt all right," Wright said. "So I went back in."
As he ran down the sidelines it popped out again. The pain was in another stratosphere.
"That's when I knew it was over," Wright said. "I knew my knee was gone."
The 6-foot-4, 243-pound kid who played well in 2009 in the state championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium had torn his meniscus and patella. It took two months before he could stand up and walk after the September surgery.
It took four months before he could even train or run again.
"I love football," Wright said after his Red Devils beat Hammond 33-6 in Lowell on Friday night. "It was tough watching my teammates play last year without me. It's hard when something you love so much gets taken away from you."
Wright and his mates played power football against the ever-improving Wildcats. Two fourth-quarter scores blew open a game that had been in play for much of the game. Wright was quick to praise the players in purple after the game.
"They are a fast, hard-hitting team," Wright said. "They are much improved. They are well-coached. They hit you and they want to keep hitting you. Those guys are going to win a lot of games."
Wright had a sack on Hammond quarterback Eric Schreiber that forced a fumble. He and his line mates wore down a talented 'Cats defense, which opened up the door in the final quarter. Wright even had a tackle on a kickoff. That's how good this young man is.
And there was likely no one happier to be under the lights than him. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, even in the cold, muddy environs of high school football in Northwest Indiana.
"There's no feeling like this," Wright said. "It's almost as great as waking up in the morning."
Yes, football is still akin to breathing in Lowell. Some things never change.
Lowell coach Kieth Kilmer won his fifth game in a row and the Devils' 12th straight over Hammond. But he has a special place in his heart for Wright after watching the work that was put in to get back on the field.
"I couldn't be more prouder," Kilmer said. "He plays in the dome as a sophomore, comes back and is on (The Times) preseason all-area team and then a freak play happens on the field and he's done. He was robbed last year. He had two choices. He could work hard or hang it up."
A lot of talented football players have been put on the shelf by injuries this year. Keep an eye on Wright's story and the words of Kilmer. Listen to your doctor, work hard and never stop believing in a come back.
No. 66 in Red Devil black is proof that you can return and be even better than you were before.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.