SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- St. Xavier quarterback Sean Clifford sat in the Ohio Stadium media workroom late Dec. 2 and told the reporters it was the most sore he’d ever felt after a game.
At the time, he smiled knowing the Bombers were recently crowned state champions. But St. X was also one of the most injured teams to ever win a state title. Even a month later, the Bombers still reflect on the journey. St. X coach Steve Specht says he plans to write a book about the season.
"It was a hell of a run," Specht said.
Turns out the Bombers had 25 starters or potential starters who missed at least one game due to injury, St. X head trainer Michael Gordon told WCPO.com this week.
St. X, which finished No. 20 nationally in the final MaxPreps 2016 composite rankings, had a total of 137 games lost due to injury, which equates to a little more than nine players on average who were or would have been starters missing every single game due to injury this past season, Gordon said.
“From ACL tears to broken wrists to fractured low backs to hamstring injuries to mid-foot sprains to concussions,” Gordon said.
“We had a lot of acute, and mostly non-preventable injuries (such as preventing a knee that's wearing a brace to absorb a blow from the outside of the knee and not sustain an ACL tear). You can't prevent a thumb from dislocating when it is landed on in a pile. Stuff like that. What a testament to the resiliency and depth of this team.”
The Bombers just completed an amazing journey to defeat Cleveland St. Ignatius 27-20 in double overtime to win the Division I state title in front of 13,690 that first weekend in December.
But like the previous 14 weeks -- even going back to July -- injuries were still the talk of this team.
A few weeks later Clifford, a Penn State commit, tweeted he suffered a labrum tear in the state final.
Clifford and his good friend and St. X teammate Matt Bockhorst (torn ACL in July) weren’t able to participate in the Under Armour All-America Game this past weekend due to the respective injuries.
Overcoming arguably the nation’s toughest schedule was one thing for the Bombers, who started the season 0-2. But losing starting players right and left was quite another large obstacle with which the Bombers had to cope.
It seemed at times the count was lost on how many injuries piled up.
“These kids stayed the course,” Specht. “I couldn’t be more proud of a group of kids.”
The Bombers became the first five-loss team to win the state football championship in Ohio. But after Week 9, a 4-5 record didn't look promising for a playoff spot, let alone a state title. The Bombers stayed positive through it all.
"What else can do you do but keep moving forward?" Specht said in late October. "It isn't like we've forgotten about the guys who got injured. But the reality is life is not going to wait on us."
The Bombers used the Catapult system, a computer program that tracks the total volume of work and intensity exerted during practices and games for 15 varsity players. The team used it mostly during the season. It didn't help with injuries but certainly gave the team data to track players' health.
St. X was the only Ohio team that used the system this year. It was used in 15 schools nationwide, the company said at the start of the season.
This month, Gordon will meet with University of Cincinnati business analytics staffers who analyzed the GPS data. It will be interesting to see the final summation of the results from the entire 2016 season, Gordon said.
"They helped us hone in on the two to three things to really watch for adjusting during practices to help mimic game data," Gordon said. "I think it's pretty interesting data."