Cody Poynter has been the face of Boone Grove football since he returned the opening kickoff of his first JV game for a touchdown as a freshman.
Finishing his high school career stuck on the sidelines with a crutch under his arm is the last way the two-way standout wanted to go out.
"It's tough," Poynter said. "Football's my favorite sport. I miss it. Every week, I just stand there, watching. It's awful. There are times I want to throw down the crutches and go out there. It's the worst feeling."
Poynter was lighting it up when a knee injury in practice abruptly ended his season a month ago.
"It was the worst pain I've ever felt," he said. "I dropped right to the ground. When it happened, I knew something was messed up. After that, all the bumps and bruises will be nothing now."
Doctors initially thought Pynter had a torn PCL, tibial micro-fracture and dislocated kneecap. An MRI ruled out the latter two and kept Poynter from having to undergo surgery. That was the consolation prize for not being able to play high school football again.
"It was a big relief, not having to have surgery, but it still sucks pretty bad," Poynter said. "It'll heal by itself. I'm glad I can play baseball and I can try to play (football) at the next level. I'll work a lot harder to get back and even harder to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Poynter is doing rehab three days a week at Select Physical Therapy in Valpo. Afterward, he comes back to Boone to watch the rest of practice.
"He's invaluable even as he is," Wolves coach Tony Tinkel said. "A few nights, it was pouring down rain and he was out there. He's talking to all the kids filling in, trying to help them out, to help out the team."
One week, the coaches had Poynter wear a headset. Last week, he actually dressed out for the sectional game at Lake Station, going through some light pregame stretches and walking to midfield for the coin toss. He hoped against hope to hold on a kick or play a decoy wide receiver for a play.
"He's a kid. His heart is on that field," Tinkel said. "It's where he wants to be, but he knows he can't."
Tougher yet for Poynter were the last two weeks of the regular season, when Boone lost to Roosevelt and South Newton, teams it would've likely beaten with an able No. 18.
"It was very frustrating I couldn't help out," he said, "but it doesn't mean they can't keep winning. We had to move a lot of people to different spots, which is difficult late in the season. I try to tell them to keep playing hard, the way you know how to play."
Freshman Evan Stewart, who was recently put in Poynter's tailback spot, has become one of his pet projects.
"It was huge shock (losing Poynter) at the very beginning, of course," Tinkel said. "As the weeks went on, they've progressed. They're really coming along."
The Wolves bounced back to beat Lake Station for the school's first sectional win. For Poynter, one of the program's cornerstone players, the moment was bittersweet.
"I'll probably remember it the rest of my life," he said. "Everybody was very excited. But it would've been a lot better to be in there playing with them."