The problem wasn't just that one of his players was injured – and pretty badly, at that.
Of course, injuries are never good, and this one – which sent a bone jutting out into daylight – was especially gruesome. Moreover, it came on the first day of practice of a player's freshman season, the rudest possible introduction to football.
But again, the problem wasn't just the injury. It was the player who happened to be injured: Collin Ellis, a Baton Rouge, La., native who a little more than a week ago became the first commit of Northwestern's 2010 recruiting class.
The reason Ellis' injury made Dunham High School coach Joey Thibedeaux queasy – aside from the bone that had punched through his skin – was the fact that Thibedeaux had put the full-court on Ellis to play football. Thibedeaux saw that Ellis was an athletic, well-built kid, but nonetheless, someone who was more interested in irons and drives than pigskin and pads.
"He was a kid who played football as an eight-grader and was a good player," Thibedeaux said. "But all of a sudden he wanted to concentrate on golf, and I said, ‘Man, you have a lifetime to concentrate on golf.'"
The persuasion tactics stretched all the way to Ellis' house.
"We had worked on him and talked to him, his dad, his mom to come out and play," Thibedeaux said. "The first day he's all excited, and then he gets hurt. And it's not just a bruise. It's mangled….
"Here was this freshman and his arm was dangling and he said, ‘Coach, coach, I think something's wrong.' And I said, ‘Yeah, something's wrong. You have a compound fracture.' Just a gruesome injury."
No doubt, Thibedeaux thought, that this is the end of Ellis' football career. Why would a kid who wanted to play golf, a kid who needed to be coaxed into playing football, a kid who had never really been enamored with football in the first place – why would that kid come back and play football?
To that question, Thibedeaux doesn't have an answer. But Ellis, of course, did keep playing football. And not just playing, thriving. Thibedeaux ticks off a seemingly endless list of positions when he talks about Ellis' career at Dunham High School: "He plays on both sides of the ball for us, he punts for us, he plays split end, tight end, full back, inside linebacker, safety."
Ellis is projected as an outside linebacker – possibly a safety – at Northwestern. Right now, Ellis is 6-1, 200 pounds, but Thibedeaux expects him to keep growing. The coach forecasts that within a few years, Ellis may grow an inch or two and will eventually bulk up to about 240 pounds.
To hear Thibedeaux tell it, Ellis sure never got timid following his injury. The first thing that the coach talked about in regards to Ellis was how hard he plays. Maybe too hard, sometimes.
"He's an old-time football player as far as the intensity he plays with," Thibedeaux said. "He plays extremely hard, almost to the point of exhaustion.
"I remember in some games having to physically remove him from the field just to give him a breather….He will not take himself out. So I remember several times sending guys out there (to sub in) and he's waving them back. And you know, he can hardly breathe."
When asked to compare Ellis to someone, Thibedeaux didn't hesitate. Sure, sometimes it's an insult to be compared to a poor, slow-witted movie character. But Thibedeaux meant it with sincere praise.
"I don't now if you've seen the movie ‘The Waterboy'," Thibedeaux said. "He's Bobby Boucher. That type of aggressiveness, that type of exhaustive energy. He'll hit you, he's physical, he has all the tools to play a number of positions."
That makes sense, right? Boucher was from Louisiana, as is Ellis. Boucher played with absolute recklessness, and Ellis is the kid who waves off incoming subs.
So according to his coach, Ellis is a good find for Northwestern. Now the Wildcats just need to keep an eye on him during that first practice.