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Football 2012: Ness City's Flax bounces back from injury

Published on -8/30/2012, 10:50 AM

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NESS CITY -- In Week 8 last season, Ness City High School and Montezuma-South Gray, two undefeated football teams, met for the title in Eight-Man Division I, District 6. At that point, Ness City had permitted just 50 points all season and had a talented group of then-juniors, including Garrett Flax, the team's leading rusher and arguably Kansas' top eight-man special teams returner.

Midway through the game, Flax went to make a tackle and cut back.

He was hit hard and Ness City coach Chris Bamberger saw Flax get badly "wrapped up and twisted" over the ankle. Bamberger knew Flax had trouble with his ankles, but didn't know how badly the running back was hurt. Bamberger found Flax wincing in pain.

"I heard it pop," Flax said. "It was pretty painful."

Flax's diagnosis was a broken leg and a couple of torn ligaments, an injury that ended his season, completely changed Ness City's year and began a long road of recovery. The Eagles, who also had injuries to lineman Tucker VonLehe, defensive back Matthew Frank and quarterback/defensive end Colin Foos throughout the season, couldn't fully recover after Flax's injury. Ness City lost 72-40 to South Gray, the eventual Eight-Man, Division I state runner-up.

"We felt like if we would have been fully healthy that game, we feel that game really could have gone the other way," senior running back/linebacker Dalton Gantz said. "We are not taking anything away from South Gray. They were one heck of a team last year. They deserved every bit of that championship run, but we felt like that game could have gone down to the last play of the fourth quarter."

After a 64-14 victory versus Kinsley, a depleted Ness City team fell 42-40 in the final seconds to Macksville in the first round of the playoffs, and finished 8-2.

"It was just the worst feeling knowing that I couldn't be out there with my teammates," Flax said.

Flax finished with 91 carries for 810 yards and collected 45 tackles with two tackles for loss.

"He was going to make something out of nothing and or was going to take what the O-line gave him and go with that, too," Bamberger said. "He was explosive. At any time, he could do something exciting."

He delivered terrific numbers as a returner: 10 punt returns for 302 yards and a touchdown and six kickoff returns for 320 yards and three scores. Bamberger estimated Flax had around three other returns that were called back because of penalty. He still earned second team all-league at running back and honorable mention as a return specialist.

"We tell the guys up front, just get a hat on a hat, get on somebody and you are going to give him some green grass," Bamberger said. "The kids, they know that, and anytime they kick to him, or punt to him, the guys up front take some pride in that, and they understand, 'Hey, if we can just get a couple blocks here and there (and) spring him.'"

Flax rarely has competed in any sports since the injury, but started to feel full strength at the end of June. His initial plan was to come back after Christmas for basketball, but some screws popped in his leg, and he needed a second surgery.

"You could tell that he was really pushing himself to get himself healthy," Bamberger said. "It seemed like there would be a setback here or a setback there."

Flax never played basketball and missed all but the last few weeks of track. He spent around three months in physical therapy.

"Tough going in there everyday and doing the same thing over and over," Flax said of rehab. "I knew that it had to be done if I wanted to get back and help these guys be successful."

Now, the 5-foot-9, 177-pound Flax is back to full strength, calling the leg "110 percent" in the first week of camp. Bamberger expects to use Flax in the same role the senior has had for several years: running back, linebacker and returner. Bamberger, starting his third year in the program, said having Flax as a returner wasn't a hard decision.

"It was pretty easy to see with his shiftiness and his speed," Bamberger said. "Let's give this guy some open field and see what he does with it. He has gotten comfortable. He had a hard time a couple of times catching some punts and I told him, 'Garrett, 'Just go get it. Who cares, just go get it,' and whatever you do with it is fine."

Ness City's blocking up front helped, too. Flax especially remembered the first play in a 54-8 victory against Deerfield in Week 3. Flax had a huge hole up the middle, hit it and took the kickoff for a score.

"The blocking - I could drive a truck through some of those holes," Flax said.

This fall, a healthy Flax could produce more electrifying plays -- and perhaps help Ness City reach Newton for the state championship.

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