Concussed Carroll finds silver lining

Knocked out: Though he exited Judge’s loss to Roman early with a concussion, QB Zack Carroll (left) has made major strides in his senior season. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

Zack Carroll found himself in unfamiliar territory.

Down six points with less than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Father Judge’s offense was trying to penetrate Roman Catholic’s defense and pull off an improbable comeback victory. However, instead of barking out the signals to his gridiron peers from behind the center, the senior quarterback could only clap his hands and shout words of encouragement to sophomore backup QB Robert King from the sideline.

The quarterback juxtaposition culprit? A concussion, the all-too-familiar malady that maintains an insidious penchant for circumventing an athlete’s plans and desires.

“I couldn’t do anything about it, and I had to accept that,” said Carroll, referring to the closing moments of Father Judge’s 20–14 Catholic League Division AAAA loss to Roman last Thursday night in Conshohocken. “It was weird. I’m used to being involved in all of our big plays.”

Not this night, and maybe not this coming Saturday afternoon against St. Joseph’s Prep (1 p.m., at Northeast), either. As of Monday evening, Carroll was listed as questionable to take on the defending Catholic League and state champion Hawks.

Carroll’s injury occurred on what seemed like an innocuous play. On a third and long early in the second quarter, Carroll went back to pass and, seeing no one open, decided to run. A few yards later, he smashed helmets with a Cahillite defender.

As he returned to the sideline, everything appeared to be fine. But then, Carroll “didn’t feel like myself.” He was woozy. Asked by the coaches if he was OK, Carroll initially answered in the affirmative. But a few seconds later, he countered his own diagnosis.

“I think I was bleary-eyed,” he said. “I told (the coaches) that I didn’t feel right. When the trainer tested me, he said I was done. Even though I was frustrated, I knew they had to take me out. They said they weren’t going to risk anything, and that is the right call.”

So Carroll found a place on the bench. Staring straight ahead with no one near him, Carroll appeared to be in Zen mode. In truth, his still, calm countenance betrayed his internal engine.

“I was scared,” he said. “My mind was racing. I wasn’t sure how serious this would be. I was thinking, ‘I only have a few more high school games left. I don’t want to lose them.’ After awhile, I was able to calm myself down.”

Carroll wasn’t the only person who needed to be calmed down.

“My mom came down from the stands to see if I was OK,” he said with a laugh. “You know how moms are. She was worried, but I told her I had a concussion and was taken out for precautionary reasons.”

While King (5-for-12, 106 yards, one touchdown throw to sophomore Raheem Blackshear) tried in vain to mount a winning drive, Carroll was asked during a timeout how difficult it was for him not to be playing. His response displayed a team-first attitude that has endeared Carroll to the Father Judge community.

“Right now,” he said, “The only thing I’m thinking about is watching Rob help us win this game.”

Told about that vignette as the Crusaders walked toward their awaiting transportation back to the Northeast, Father Judge head coach Mike McKay wasn’t surprised.

“Zack is a great kid,” McKay said. “He’s all about ‘team,’ and his teammates love that about him. We’ve come to expect that about him.”

The Crusaders also admire Carroll’s football acumen, which has seen him complete 43 of 83 passes (52 percent) for 908 yards and nine touchdowns. (As a junior, Carroll completed just 42 percent of his passes for 794 yards and four TDs.) But those improved numbers often become muted because of junior running back sensation Yeedee Thaenrat. Through Judge’s seven games, Thaenrat has rushed for 1,079 yards and scored 19 offensive touchdowns.

Thaenrat recognizes that Carroll is a crucial component of those incredible numbers.

“We can do a lot of things in our offense,” said Thaenrat, whose 48-yard touchdown return of a fumble recovery late in the third quarter helped offset his frustration of gaining only 64 yards on 16 carries and being unable to score on offense for the first time this year. “Zack is a key part of that.”

While giving plaudits to McKay’s play calling, Mark Zataveski’s copious abilities as an offensive line coach and offensive linemen — Dom Carry (sophomore center), Dan Sipps (senior guard), Andy Wilson (junior guard), Connor Lieggi (junior guard), Tim Breslin (senior tackle) and Brendan Clark (junior tackle) — Carroll labeled Thaenrat “clearly the star of the team” and Father Judge’s major offensive threat.

A transfer from Upper Moreland High School after his sophomore year, Carroll insisted that individual attention is not among his chief concerns.

“I’d rather play a lousy game and win rather than play a great game and lose,” Carroll said. “I think our coaches have instilled in us that winning is accomplished when everyone works together.”

Carroll extolled McKay for his paternal patience and wisdom.

“He tries to make us good players on the field and good men off the field,” Carroll said. “We have great coaches.”

Coaching — and teaching — is something Carroll has contemplated when looking ahead to his college plans and beyond.

“I’m open to playing football, but if doesn’t happen, that’s OK,” he said. “At this point, I’m just hoping we win the rest of our games and do well in the playoffs. I think we have a good shot.” ••