By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
NORTH PORT — A player from Southeast High School hit North Port’s Dane Balsinger from behind during the spring game between the teams in May.
As the play was still going on, Balsinger attempted to get to his feet, but another Seminole hit him before he could.
The 6-foot-4 junior was knocked back to the ground, but his right foot stayed planted.
“I felt it pop, Balsinger recalled. “Then I got up, and limped off the field because I knew something wasn’t right.”
He knew instantly he was going to miss some significant time, and he was right. The diagnosis was a broken fibula, right above the ankle.
Doctors initially had told him he’d be sidelined four to six weeks, which would’ve meant he’d have plenty of time to participate in the offseason training with the Bobcats over the summer, but things didn’t go as planned.
“It ended up being longer than that,” Balsinger said. “I guess it wasn’t healing as fast as they thought. I had to do some training after that for three weeks because my ankle was extremely weak.”
The North Port defensive lineman still isn’t quite at 100 percent, but he’s played in all three games this season, and he’s made a meaningful impact for his team in each.
So far, Balsinger has four tackles, seven assists, two tackles for a loss, a fumble recovery, two pass deflections and 2.5 sacks.
He’ll look to add to those totals tonight, when the Bobcats host Venice in the District 7A-11 opener for both schools.
“He’s worked hard to get back on the field,” Coach Brian Hatler said. “Unfortunately, injuries are part of the game. I think he handled it well, and I think he worked hard to stay where he needed to be so he could come back quicker once he got clearance.”
The journey to get to this point wasn’t an easy one. Balsinger still feels some pain at the beginning of games, but once the adrenaline starts pumping, that pain goes away.
His rehab process over the summer was fairly lengthy, and it took some time to build up strength in his ankle.
“I think for any athlete, it’s frustrating when you can’t be out there with your teammates, and to do the things individually to make you a better athlete and player,” Hatler said.
Balsinger still attended practice every day in the summer even though he couldn’t participate in any drills. While his teammates were on the field, he sat on the sideline and watched and learned.
“I was definitely antsy to get back on the field,” he said.
Even though he was eager to return, he knew he had to take his time because there are certain injuries which can’t be rushed. A lower leg/ankle injury for a 240-pounder is one of them.
Luckily for Balsinger, the timing worked out well. He was cleared to play just prior to North Port’s opener, and after all that time sitting on the sidelines watching his teammates, he was finally able to go out and join them.
Venice (2-0) at North Port (0-3)
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Last week: Venice 42, Manatee 7; Palmetto Ridge 34, North Port 27.
Last season: Venice d. North Port, 56-0.
Players to watch: Venice: Court Doss (Jr., RB), Bryce Carpenter (Jr., QB). North Port: Skylar Razwilavich (Jr., ATH), C.K. Poulos (Jr., WR), Devon Allen (Jr., QB).
What to expect: North Port proved itself to be a talented team last week, taking a 27-14 lead into halftime against Palmetto Ridge. Now, the Bobcats need to prove they can play a full four-quarter game. Venice is a tough draw to begin District 7A-11 play, as the Indians are one of the best teams in the state.
DeSoto County (0-3) at Lemon Bay (0-2)
Time: 7 p.m.
Last week: Clearwater Central Catholic 35, DeSoto County 3; Lemon Bay did not play.
Last season: Lemon Bay 23, DeSoto County 3.
Players to watch: DeSoto County: Niron Washington (Sr. RB/DB), Emmanuel Wesley (Sr., WR/DB). Lemon Bay: Victor Mellor (Sr., ATH), Brayden Curry (Sr., RB), Logan Lydic (Jr., LB).
What to expect: The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the Manta Rays. Despite losses in the first two games, at the end of the day, it matters how you perform in district games, and this is the first District 5A-11 test for Lemon Bay. This is a good draw for them to try to put one in the win column for the first time in 2016. The defense played well in the Manta Rays last game, now they’ll look for the offense to get on track after being shut out in that one.
Cape Coral (0-2 ) at Port Charlotte (2-0)
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Last week: Cape Coral did not play; Port Charlotte did not play
Last season: Port Charlotte 57, Cape Coral 21.
Players to watch: Cape Coral: Maurice Flournoy (Sr., QB), D.J. Lewis (Sr., WR/LB), Isaac Washington (Sr., RB/DB); Port Charlotte: Paul Barnes (Jr., QB), Tiyan “Pop” Bush (Sr., LB), Earnest Harvey (Sr., RB)
What to expect: Both teams had a bye last week, so there’s no advantage for either team with the extra time to prepare for the District 6A-10 opener. In last year’s matchup, the Pirates dropped 57 on the Seahawks, feasting on the Cape Coral defense. This time around, look for the Pirates’ tough defensive line to attack a weak offensive line for the Seahawks, with players like Devin Leacock getting plenty of shots at quarterback Maurice Flournoy.
Ida Baker (1-2) at Charlotte (2-0)
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Last week: Braden River 42, Ida Baker 14; Charlotte 63, North Miami 33.
Last season: Charlotte 41, Ida Baker 14.
Players to watch: Ida Baker: Toby Noland (Jr., QB), Robert Cobb (Sr., LB), Luke Endsley (Sr., WR). Charlotte: Dee Hicks (Sr., QB), Maleek Williams (Sr., RB), D’Vonte Price (Sr., ATH)
What to expect: The Tarpons made it through the first two games with ease. They’ll likely do the same tonight in their District 6A-10 opener. Charlotte’s 41-14 win last season is indicative of what you’ll likely see in this one. Very few teams can match the speed of players like Dee Hicks and D’Vonte Price, and then there’s Maleek Williams to pound it up the middle with power.