Quentin Skinner knew something wasn’t right.
After emerging from the bottom of a pile of Collinsville players, the Claremore senior took only a few steps before falling back to the turf.
His left knee had bent at an uncomfortable angle during the play, and though he felt some discomfort, Skinner didn’t suspect the slight pain was enough to keep him from completing the game.
The team doctor evaluated the area, and with no signs of serious injury, Skinner trotted back on the field.
However, the ensuing play would be the last of his high school career.
While turning upfield to block following a Noah Smallwood interception, Skinner’s subtle discomfort turned to full-on agony.
“I jumped off my left leg and felt that pop that everyone hears when they do something to their knee with meniscus or ACL injuries,” Skinner said. “I hobbled off and knew it wasn’t right. I know my body, and I’ve been through so many injuries in the past where my body’s telling me nothing is OK.”
The verdict was an ACL tear, an injury that takes six to nine months to heal after surgery.
Tears crawled down Skinner’s cheeks as Dr. Steven Hardage, a sports medicine specialist, delivered the bad news.
Not only was Skinner the Zebras’ second leading receiver behind Dylan Kedzior at the time of the injury, he was also one pick away from breaking the school record for interceptions.
He tied the record of 11 against Sapulpa on Sept. 13.
“I started crying more than I think I ever have in my whole life,” Skinner said. “It was just a mind-blowing thing.”
As difficult as that moment was for the Claremore star, the following week was perhaps even more crushing.
Skinner, ordered to bedrest, didn’t attend school from Sept. 30 through Oct. 4, causing him to miss most homecoming festivities that week.
Those were probably the hardest days for Skinner, and things only got more emotional during the game against East Central.
Although he didn’t need his crutches, he couldn’t help but feel helpless as he watched his team crush the Cardinals, 55-15.
Skinner’s situation didn’t quite hit him, though, until he was surrounded by his padded-up teammates.
“I got in the huddle and broke the team down for the first time without putting on a jersey and helmet and cleats, and it just didn’t feel the same,” Skinner said. “That’s when it really hit me that I’m not going to be able to play the rest of my senior year.
“I already had that thought in mind when I heard the news, but it just didn’t seem as real.”
Every condolence and hug received brought Skinner to tears.
He so desperately sought to regain the camaraderie that came along with being on the field with his football brothers.
Things might be different, he thought, if he could just play a few more downs and get that record-breaking interception.
Skinner was too competitive to simply give up, and though he knew it was a longshot, he went to Zebras coach Jarrett Hurt with a request.
“I wasn’t going to get surgery for a few weeks,” Skinner said. “So I was like, ‘Coach Hurt, let me suit up one more game.’ He was like, ‘If you were my son, I wouldn’t let you do it. You have a big future for yourself.’”
Trusting his coach’s wise words, Skinner accepted his fate. He wouldn’t play football in a Claremore jersey again.
However, Skinner wouldn’t let his circumstances control his happiness.
In addition to being Claremore’s unofficial hype man, Skinner is also an honorary coach of sorts.
In the Zebras’ 21-14 upset of No. 3 Tahlequah on Nov. 8, Skinner said he suggested the plays that resulted in touchdown passes to Smallwood and Kedzior in the third quarter.
“I try to throw in a few plays here and there,” Skinner said. “What a lot of people say is good about me is my football knowledge. I’m helping out athletes who have replaced me on the football field while also helping guys who aren’t even my position with technique and things.
“People know I’m a vocal person, but even more now. You gotta keep the same energy as you would being on the field. Sometimes you might almost catch me running.”
Claremore (6-4) travels to McAlester for the first round of the playoffs on Friday, and though Skinner will again be limited to the sideline, his future on the gridiron is as bright as ever.
Less than two weeks after suffering the ACL tear, Skinner committed to play football collegiately at the University of Kansas as a preferred walk-on.
Skinner, who fielded eight other offers, was concerned his chances of being a Jayhawk might’ve evaporated with his injury, but a call from Kansas receivers coach Emmett Jones proved the opposite.
“Coach Jones was checking on me one day and seeing how I was, and I told him about my knee situation,” Skinner said. “He said, ‘Well man, I’d still love to have you here.’”
Skinner couldn’t believe his ears.
“Are you serious?” he asked.
“Yes, Quinten,” Jones responded. “I think you could have a big role in this offense and love it here in Lawrence.”
That is all Skinner needed to hear. Shortly after, he announced his commitment via Twitter.
Skinner is following in the footsteps of his father, Reggie Skinner, who played running back at the University of Oklahoma from 1997 to 1999.
“I grew up as a Sooners fan, but now I bleed red, blue and white,” Skinner said.
Skinner will be joining a rebuilding Kansas program that was taken over earlier this year by former Oklahoma State and LSU coach Les Miles.
With three games remaining in the regular season, Miles has already equaled the Jayhawks’ 2018 wins total with three victories, including one over Big 12 foe Texas Tech.
Skinner said Miles is the exact kind of coach he wants to play for at the next level.
“He’s an outstanding cat,” Skinner said of Miles. “He’s a very outgoing guy and a very unique individual.”
Skinner’s senior season might have not panned out the way he would’ve liked, but things have certainly taken a positive turn since that fateful night on Sept. 27.
What could’ve shattered the resolve of many young athletes only strengthened Skinner’s.
High school football is behind him, but with college on the horizon, there is no telling what Skinner could achieve.
“I’m not the type of person known to hang my head on something,” Skinner said. “I’m the type of person to get back after it because I know the world’s not gonna hug me back, either.”