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Shasta’s Atherton out for the season

Steve Yingling

Serious injuries have forced many a football player to retire rather than work their way back into playing shape.

Optimistic David Atherton thrives on adversity. He sees injuries as another impediment – like a linebacker or strong safety – trying to prevent him from reaching the end zone.

Atherton, a sophomore running back at Shasta Community College, suffered a season-ending knee injury during the opening week of practice last month. The Whittell High School graduate underwent major left knee reconstruction after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament and 95 percent of his meniscus (cartilage).

Still, the 1995 Nevada 2A Western Division Player of the Year remains upbeat about his gridiron future.

“I’ll just have to knuckle up and come back strong next year. I can’t be a baby about it,” he said. “It’s just another obstacle, and that’s how it’s always been for me. That’s how I like it.”

Considering the gridiron setbacks Atherton has encountered over the past three or four years, it’s a wonder he still loves the game.

First came arthroscopic surgery to his left knee in 1994, then a benign tumor was removed from a groin muscle in his left leg the following year. Now this.

“A lot of people have been asking me, ‘Have you lost love for playing football?’ Last year, I did because I was always on the sidelines and didn’t play. But in the off-season something snapped in my head, ‘I still love this game.’

“This knee surgery made me love it more.”

The knee injury occurred during the team’s “thud drill,” a contact exercise where no wrapping and tackling are permitted.

“I saw a hole and went to cut back and swung my right leg over my left. When I planted my left leg, it hyperextended and I fell down. I tried to get up, but I was in too much pain,” he said.

Later that morning the pain went away, but the team’s trainer’s preliminary diagnosis was a torn ACL.

“I wanted to go back out there. It was tearing me up, watching all my roommates out there sweating and I couldn’t be out there,” Atherton said. “In my mind I didn’t want to believe that it was that serious, but I knew I was going to need major reconstruction.”

The timing of the injury couldn’t have been worse. Atherton was competing for the backup tailback spot.

“He made a lot of improvement during last season. During some scrimmage situations, he really came on and did a good job for us,” said Leon Donahue, Shasta’s 1996 head coach who now is an assistant. “He was expected to play quite a bit this year. Hopefully, he can go on from this.”

Besides Atherton’s work ethic and determination, Donahue, a 27-year coach at the school, is impressed with his “deceiving running and great leg strength.”

Off the field, Donahue and Atherton have formed a special bond.

“He’s one of my favorites. He’s a nice kid and he always comes by and checks in with me,” Donahue said.

Shasta won its opener, 35-15 over Mendocino on Saturday. When Atherton’s rehabilitation allows him to return to the sidelines, he’ll be there for his teammates. Just because he won’t be playing, doesn’t mean Atherton is going to be invisible.

“I’m going to go on the road trips and I’m definitely going to all the home games. Once I start walking, I’ll go to all the practices again. I’ll go out there and do my best to help my teammates,” he said.

Despite all of his setbacks, Atherton never lets the injuries go to his head.


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