Small stature, huge presence for Franklin Regional's all-conference fullback Pursley
When defensive linemen look over at the Franklin Regional offensive formation, they may think the Panthers are using a 10-man offense, wondering where the fullback might be.
But when "solid blocks" pave the way for the Panthers' feature runners or when the quarterback needs protection, those defenders soon find out about the fullback, who coach Greg Botta says is "an unbelievable kid."
"Unbelievable" because, at 5 feet, 5 inches tall, and weighing 200 pounds, Chris Pursley is vastly "undersized for a fullback," Botta said. "On defense, he is in the middle. He is a solid tackler, an unsung hero, a player who is not in the limelight. He loves the game, does it all for the team."
Benching 225 pounds 25 times, he is one of the strongest kids on the team.
"At his size, he is a proverbial bowling ball in the middle of our offense and defense," Botta said, chuckling.
But Pursley's path to the varsity lineup was not without its roadblocks. He has had the misfortune three times of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
After playing middle school football in the eighth grade, Pursley suffered a torn left ACL playing lacrosse the following spring. Following surgery in May, Pursley was unable to play football as a freshman.
Back on the field, he took his lumps as a sophomore but Pursley worked his way into the Panthers' starting lineup as a junior and earned first-team all-conference honors as a fullback.
"Going into the season last year, I never expected him to have the kind of year he had," said Botta, who is in his 16th year with the Panthers. "Especially not in the beginning. It's a tough conference, but he was selected all-conference by the opposing coaches, which is obviously a reflection of how they saw him and what they thought of him."
But as Franklin Regional was earning a Class AAA playoff berth last season and Pursley was winning all-conference honors, he found himself on the sidelines for that playoff game, having suffered another ACL tear, this time to his right leg, in the Panthers' regular-season finale.
As his teammates prepared to watch Thanksgiving Day football games on big-screen TVs, Pursley watched from his hospital room, having had his second ACL surgery the previous day.
By this time, rehab was old hat, and Pursley was ready in time for summer conditioning and the 2009 season, where he planned on picking up exactly where he left off last year.
"I never realized how well I had done last year until after the season when they announced the all-conference team," he said. "All season, I just wanted to play as well as I could."
Fast forward to the Panthers' second game of this season, against Ambridge.
"We ran a bootleg," Pursley recalled, "and our quarterback threw me the ball. I just had time to plant my leg when the safety tackled me." His left ACL was torn for a second time.
But this time, the prognosis is much more optimistic.
Even though an MRI showed a complete tear of his ACL, there has not been as much swelling and Pursley has already been able to do some light jogging.
"It feels better than in the past, but it looks like surgery after the season," he said. "This time the injury sounds and looks worse than it is. Coming off the injury, it was great news hearing that I may be able to play in a couple weeks. It cheered me up. My goal is to play during the second half of the season. I do rehab three times a week. I'm anxious to play and get back in the lineup."
"Chris is a coach's dream, and he sets standards high," Botta said. "He's one of the leaders of the team and leads by example. He has a tremendous work ethic, on the field and in the weight room, and has shown consistent improvement each season. He gets better and better every game. He knows the game and has the temperament to be a tremendous coach."
But Pursley's injuries have pointed him in another direction.
"Since I tore up my knees, I've had a first-hand look at what an orthopedic surgeon does, and I've developed an interest in that field. Studying medicine and becoming an orthopedic surgeon may be in my future," he said.
At Franklin Regional, Pursley, a member of the Young Republicans Club and Youth Christian Outreach program, maintains a 3.65 grade average, adding that anatomy is his favorite class. But, he said, chuckling, "I also enjoy foods class. It's early in the school year and we've only made smoothies, from scratch, but there will be much more for us to do."
And in spite of his injuries, Chris Pursley will take more than wins and losses from his days as a Franklin Regional football player.
"I'll always remember all the team bonding that coach Botta has taught us," he said. "Being a part of the team and having team goals is something I'll always remember."