HOWARD COUNTY, MD — The gruesome injury, the ensuing two surgeries and the weeklong hospital stay that followed are still a bit of a blur for Glenelg linebacker Sam Alsheimer. But there was a vivid moment when he returned home more than a week after breaking his left leg and he was alone in his room. He looked down at his shrunken lower limb that doctors had considered amputating when the emotions came crashing down on him.
How could this happen to me? Why me? Am I ever going to walk again? Am I ever going to play football again?
“Once I got home from the second surgery, just sitting in my own room with all this time to think, I did not do well with that,” Alsheimer said. “I remember sitting in my room praying and trying to figure everything out. Why did this happen to me? It didn’t make sense.
“I’m not going to lie, I cried a lot for a couple days and that was really a mentally challenging thing to try to figure out what happened.”
It transpired on Friday, Sept. 2, 2017 during the first quarter of the first game of his junior season against Howard. Alsheimer took a handoff, cut outside and battled for extra yards when someone came down on the side of his leg. The pain was instant. The extent of his injury, however, came seconds later.
“I tried to get up and my leg, like, folded in half,” Alsheimer said. “The bottom half of my leg just stayed there on the ground.”
His teammate Chase Miller was one of the first to notice the injury. It brought him to tears. Coach Butch Schaffer and Alsheimer’s mother and father rushed onto the field soon after. His mother cried, too.
“That shook me up,” Alsheimer said. “Every time I moved I could feel the bones hitting each other.”
He was carted off the field and his father drove him to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore where doctors diagnosed him with a broken tibia and fibula.
“They had to reset it and that’s where my memory stops,” Alsheimer recalled. “I don’t remember anything after that.”
Schaffer was blunt in his assessment of the injury. He never thought Alsheimer would play football again.
“I just didn’t tell him that. I was really concerned about just him. I wasn’t worried about him playing,” he said. “I was more worried about him just having full use of his leg and being able to walk again. I was very worried about his health and it was very, very tough seeing one of your players like that. ... It was difficult on the field because I knew it was broken and I saw the bone against the skin.”
The injury required a months-long recovery that nearly cost him his leg but ended in the seemingly most unimaginable of ways: With Alsheimer returning to the field faster, stronger and better than ever this season to be named the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Defensive Player of the Year.
“It’s a fantastic feeling,” he said. “I felt kind of free, honestly, being on the field this year. I had a lot of self-doubt and other people had this idea that I wasn’t going to make it back because when people see that kind of injury they assume you’ll be done for a long time. Being able to prove them wrong and even myself wrong a little bit, that felt really good.”
Alsheimer was the best player on the league’s best defense. He was consistently great in every game this season and led the county in tackles with 134, including 98 solo tackles and eight for loss, to go with two interceptions, three sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He captained a Glenelg team that won its first 13 games and clinched its first county title since 2013 and its third straight regional title.
But his journey back to the field was full of ups and downs and things got worse before they got better. Alsheimer had surgery the night of the injury to insert a rod and four screws in his tibia but was able to go home the following day to start his recovery.
Or so he thought.
The pain got worse the next day. His leg began to swell and blood starting seeping through his bandage. He was rushed back to the hospital where doctors told him if he had come any later they may have had to amputate the lower part of his leg.
Alsheimer had compartment syndrome, which the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons defines as “a painful condition that occurs when pressure within the muscles builds to dangerous levels” and can decrease blood flow, “which prevents nourishment and oxygen from reaching nerve and muscle cells.” It required immediate surgery and a weeklong hospital stay. Doctors told him it might take nine months to fully recover. Worst case, he might never play sports again, which is exactly what one doctor told him when he had a spinal fusion surgery in eighth grade.
“After the [initial] surgery I was feeling a little better and the doctors were telling me some more promising things, but after the second surgery it seemed really ‘hopeless’ that I would play sports again,” Alsheimer said. “Going home, lying in bed, I remember that hurt so bad just thinking about that, how it could all be done right there and I could never get back on the field. That was just awful.”
A third surgery came two weeks later to remove a blood drain and stitch up the six-inch-long wound. Similar to the moment when he began asking why this happened came a time when he decided this wasn’t going to be how his football career ended. He was determined to make it back for his senior season.
“That was my absolute goal the whole time. I wanted to play again so badly. That’s my passion, absolutely,” Alsheimer said. “The milestones were important to me, they made me feel more hopeful to my goal of playing again, but in the back of my mind I knew I had to push through whatever was going to happen to get to that point.”
The recovery was long and painful. The first milestone was returning to school on crutches and not in a wheelchair, which doctors recommended. He did that nearly a month after the injury and was standing about a month after that. Then he started walking — painfully and with a limp — but that’s when his goals changed.
“I asked my physical therapist if he thought I could come back to the end of my wrestling season, and he said he would be surprised,” Alsheimer said. “I said, ‘I hope you like surprises.’”
After months of arduous physical therapy and before being able to run — let alone jog — he was cleared to wrestle in late January. Alsheimer, who was a county runner-up as a freshman and a county and regional champion and state placer as a sophomore, returned to the mat for Glenelg’s last regular season dual meet against River Hill. He dominated, beating his opponent via technical fall, 17-2, to help the Gladiators clinch the county dual championship.
Alsheimer defended his individual county title two weeks later, then his regional title the following week, and then “basically on one leg,” Glenelg wrestling coach Matt Bichner said, the 182-pounder reached the state finals in early March.
“It was really amazing how well he did at the end of the year,” Bichner said. “He had just been recovering to fully function on that leg and got cleared a few weeks before being five seconds away from winning a state title. That just showed me how crazy it was.”
But once wrestling season ended, his next goal was clear: getting back to the football field. He was cleared to run in the spring, but cutting and jumping was painful. Nothing was going to slow him down, however, and by the time the 7-on-7 league started in the summer Alsheimer was starting to feel like himself again.
“I didn’t really feel comfortable until around the middle of July because he still was not running as well as he was in the past,” Schaffer said. “But something happened around then, a few weeks before the season started where I’m going, ‘Man, I think he’s getting back.’ It just kept getting better and better and better. It was absolutely incredible.”
Glenelg blew out Centennial in Week 1 in a rain-shortened game, so Alsheimer’s first test came in Week 2 against Howard, the same team that watched him writhe in pain on the field a little more than a year prior.
Alsheimer was a wrecking ball. He chased players down sideline-to-sideline and stymied the Lions’ run game, and the Gladiators rolled to a 42-14 victory. After the game, the first player that Schaffer handed the Elgard Trophy to was Alsheimer, who was named the game’s co-MVP alongside Wande Owens.
“That was probably that moment for me where I finally felt like, OK, I’m done with this, I don’t have to think about the leg anymore,” Alsheimer said. “I can look forward and I can play with this team and see what happens.”
Said Schaffer: “You could see him come out of his shell in that game. From there on out, it just got better. It’s amazing just how far he’s come. From seeing him lying in his bed cut open to seeing him against Howard. To have him get that trophy was pretty special.”
Alsheimer went on to lead a defense that allowed just 6.6 points per game against county opponents and had five shutouts. Then in the playoffs the unit was even better, shutting out Oakland Mills, River Hill and New Town to advance to the 2A state championship game for the first time in school history. Alsheimer also blocked a punt that was recovered for a touchdown in the state semifinal against the Titans.
“He was actually stronger, faster ... he’s moving better than he ever had,” Schaffer said. “That was absolutely amazing.”
Although the Gladiators lost to Oakdale, 35-7, in the state final, Alsheimer said he wouldn’t trade the season for anything. He was able to finish out his career on his terms alongside guys like Wande Owens, Eric Gruber, Michael Doughty, CJ Davidson and Griffin Doyle, who have all been playing together since they were 6 years old.
“At some of those down moments, none of this seemed realistic to me at all,” Alsheimer said, “but I guess it just happens that way.”
Alsheimer has hopes of playing football in college but has yet to commit.
Also named to the first-team All-County defense:
Jake Arnone, Glenelg, senior
Arnone was a first-year starter who stabilized the Gladiators’ defensive front this season and eventually worked his way to become a two-way player. Coach Butch Schaffer said Arnone allowed Glenelg to rotate lineman to keep players fresh early in the season, which helped the team finish with 28 sacks overall.
Arnone finished the season with 43 tackles, including 24 solo and eight for loss, and a sack in 13 games played.
“He plays a physical and aggressive style that allowed linebackers to flow freely to the ball,” Schaffer said.
Sheriff Kamara, Long Reach, senior
Kamara was voted as a team captain by his teammates this season and was a leader during workouts for the Lightning.
“He made sure his teammates met the standards set by teams who came before and did not want the team to take a step back after going to the regional championship the year before,” coach Jamie Willis said.
On the field, he had the ability to play defensive tackle and end, and excelled using his strength and speed to disrupt plays in the backfield. He finished the season with 41 tackles, including 29 solo and 17 for loss, and three fumble recoveries. In the second half against Reservoir, Kamara had three tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and a blocked punt that he recovered in the rain.
“Sheriff plays with a relentless aggression that is unmatched,” Willis said. “He takes no plays off and plays the first play just as hard as the last play of the game.”
Arthur Mouafo, Oakland Mills, senior
Mouafo transferred to Oakland Mills before his junior season and played predominantly as a defensive tackle before switching to the end this year. He was one of the Scorpions’ most physical players and finished the season with 44 tackles, including eight and a half for loss, to pair with nine sacks. Mouafo also had a fumble recovery for a touchdown against Centennial.
“He was equally impressive in stopping the run and rushing the passer,” coach Tom Browne said. “There were very few weaknesses in his game.”
Jake Wrisk, Howard, senior
Wrisk was one of the only returning starters on the Lions’ defense this season and has been a model of consistency over his three-year varsity career. The senior never missed a game and “brought intensity to practice daily,” coach Ross Hannon said.
Wrisk finished the season with 24 tackles, including three for loss, and two sacks and plans to play collegiately.
“He’s a leader off the field by his actions and commitment to offseason workouts and his desire to be the best player he could be,” Hannon said. “He led the defensive linemen during individual workouts and worked his technique daily. Practice didn't make perfect, perfect practice made perfect.”
Quantonio Dunscomb, Oakland Mills, senior
After missing each of the last two seasons with broken arms, Dunscomb had an immediate impact for the Scorpions at running back and linebacker. His literal size — 5-foot-4, 135 pounds — didn’t match the size of his heart, coach Tom Brown said, as he led the team with 87 tackles at inside linebacker while rushing for 336 yards and two touchdowns on 91 carries. He had a season-high 114 yards against Marriotts Ridge.
“He was asked to take on offensive lineman that were twice his size in many cases,” Browne said. “This kid has a lot of heart. His strengths were his speed and tackling ability.”
Dunscomb is also a varsity wrestler at Oakland Mills.
John McGuire, Howard, senior
Howard has had a recent run of great linebackers and McGuire fits the mold. He moved to the linebacker position in the preseason and excelled, finishing the season with 21 solo tackles and five for loss. He also had an interception.
“He’s strong, fast and physical and an old school linebacker who had the size to [stop the run] and speed to run down quarterbacks on sprint outs,” coach Ross Hannon said. “John brought an eagerness to learn the ILB position everyday and burning desire to compete under the lights.”
Tyler Reiff, Glenelg, senior
Reiff is a “throwback style of football player,” coach Butch Schaffer said, which would make sense considering Reiff was also the team’s starting quarterback the last two seasons. He did it all for the Gladiators and finished with 49 tackles, including 29 solo and seven for loss, two sacks and five interceptions with one returned for a touchdown.
He also had 10 touchdown passes and threw for 498 yards at quarterback and ran for 302 yards and four touchdowns on 45 carries.
“He’s a tough, hardnosed and physical player who plays with passion and emotion,” Schaffer said. “He’s a highly intelligent player and a tremendous leader that everyone follows.”
Osita Smith, Wilde Lake, senior
A three-year starter at outside linebacker and a first-team All-County all-purpose selection last year, Smith was a player of the year candidate who excelled in all three phases — offense, defense and special teams. He had 875 all-purpose yards — 467 receiving, 106 punt return and 295 kick return — and accounted for 13 total touchdowns: eight receiving, two fumble recoveries and three punt returns. In his three seasons, Smith took back seven of 31 punt returns for touchdowns. He was also the team’s punter.
On defense, the West Virginia commit had five caused fumbles and recovered four, a safety against Long Reach, seven and a half sacks, a blocked punt and 101 tackles, including 21 for loss.
“Osita is an extremely committed and dedicated athlete who never takes a play off in practice or a game,” Wildecats coach Michael Harrison said. “He is very knowledgeable about the game of football and reads his keys very well.”
Beau Brade, River Hill, junior
Brade is a three-time varsity starter and All-County selection and is one of the best players in the state. On offense, Brade had 500 total yards and three touchdowns, while on defense the safety had 126 total tackles — 66 solo and five for loss — and two interceptions and had his best game when it mattered most. In a 3-0 postseason win at Westlake, Brade had 15 tackles, four pass break-ups and caused a fumble in the red zone.
“He has great footwork and instincts,” said Hawks coach Brian Van Deusen. “He is always around the football. He is very aggressive and a big hitter from the safety position and has great football knowledge and is able to read routes well.”
Brade, who has offers from Pittsburgh, Virginia, Syracuse, Wake Forest and Rutgers, has 200-career solo and 143 assisted tackles.
Daeshawn Eaton, Oakland Mills, senior
Eaton was a second-team All-County wide receiver and a first-team All-County basketball player in 2017, but he took major strides defensively this fall. He led the county with nine interceptions, which ties a school record that was set by Bryan Wingfield in 1979, to go with 55 catches for 540 yards and four scores as a wide out. He totaled 117 receptions for 1,268 yards in his two varsity seasons.
“’Dae Dae’ was our best all-around athlete. He is probably one of the smoothest kids I’ve coached,” coach Tom Browne said. “He makes tough plays look effortless on both sides of the ball.”
Eaton had an interception in eight of the Scorpions’ 11 games this season, including at least one in five consecutive games. He had two in a three-point win at Reservoir.
Darius Ellerbe, Reservoir, junior
Gators coach Bryan Cole called Ellerbe the “definition of consistent” and someone who garnered the respect of his teammates through hard work. He led the team with 71 tackles and six pass break-ups, and he also had a defensive touchdown. On offense, he was Reservoir’s second-leading rusher with 559 yards and four touchdowns on 71 carries. He had more than 100 rushing yards against Oakland Mills and Long Reach.
“Darius is always determined, has a great attitude and gives his best effort no matter what we are doing,” Cole said. “He is calm and collected, poised on and off the field. Rarely did he have up and down performances. He was a very dependable player.”
Darren Cleary, Glenelg, senior
Gladiators coach Butch Schaffer never had to worry about leaving Cleary on an island in one-on-one coverage. The first-year starter led the team with seven interceptions, including two against Atholton and one against playoff teams in Howard and Long Reach, to go with 13 tackles.
“He played great coverage, often playing on an island and was a very aggressive tackler who mad several big stops when needed,” Schaffer said. He’s a great example of how hard work pays off.”
Harrison Robbins-Green, Howard, junior
Robbins-Green was a first-year varsity player who coach Ross Hannon said brought high energy and a strong work ethic in practice. The junior punted 28 times for 844 yards, good for a 30.1-yard average, and pinned opponents inside their 20-yard line 11 times.
“Harrison had great attendance for all offseason opportunities and committed himself to be an important member of our team,” Hannon said.
*Mt. Hebron punter Evan Spisz was accidentally omitted from the stats chart above. He had 38 punts; 1,224 yards; 32.2 average; 56 long. The Howard County Times apologizes for the oversight.
Second Team — Defense:
Matt Allen, Wilde Lake, senior, defensive line
Josh Kinloch, Mt. Hebron, senior, defensive line
Elijah Saunders, Long Reach, junior, defensive line
Darius Wilson, Marriotts Ridge, senior, defensive line