By Dave Morrison

HICO – There were times that Midland Trail coach Frank Isaacs probably thought he was running a M*A*S*H unit rather than a football team.

The injuries started on Day 1 and they really never stopped.

First the Patriots lost Beau Campbell, a returning starter at wide receiver and defensive end on the first day of practice.

Then the Patriots, a Class A semifinalist (12-1) the year before, lost starting guard Zach Wood in the third quarter of the second game against Oak Hill. Tackle Travis Scarbrough, another member of the Patriots Great Wall of Hico line, was lost during a Week 3 loss to Meadow Bridge.

Another guard, Caleb McCune, was also lost for the season.

Things were so bad that Tyler Brasse was moved from slot back to guard and he was knocked out of service along with another backup lineman, Danny Nottingham.

If you are scoring at home, that’s five offensive linemen.

Along the way, Colten Yoder, who had rushed for 200-plus yards in each of the first two games (226 yards, 4 TD vs. Independence and 201 and a TD vs. Oak Hill) missed three games and his backup, Robbie Ruffner, who had a 281 yards and four touchdowns vs. Westside, missed three games at the end of the season.

Nobody suffered the effects of Midland Trail’s injury-riddled 2019 season more than quarterback Chris Vines.

Instead of leading a team coach Frank Isaacs thought cold make a run at Wheeling and a state championship appearance, Vines was one of the more experienced Patriots based on his two starts the previous postseason against Sherman and Williamstown in the Class A playoffs.

He had done his job, especially against Sherman, helping Midland Trail motor on into the semifinals and giving a hint of things to come.

In fact, in the postseason 2018 Vines ran for two touchdowns and passed for another, playing extensively throughout that postseason when Isaacs (a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard passer during the regular season) was injured in the first-round win against Tucker County.

Given a chance to review the season, coach Frankie Isaacs said he probably was too hard the first-year starter.

“After I watched film, after having a chance to look back at the season, I was probably too hard on him,” Isaacs said. “It wasn’t on him.”

And, he was following in the shoes of Austin Isaacs, the most versatile quarterback the school had seen since Steve Shuff was calling signals in the late 1980s.

“There is always a different dynamic when it’s a coach/dad,” Isaacs said. “I think there were probably times where that carried over, and that wasn’t fair to Chris. But he is a great kid. He took the criticism and never hung his head. And, let’s remember, despite all the injuries, we still got to the playoffs, and probably should have won that game (12-7 loss to East Hardy).”

And it wasn’t like Vines had a terrible season. He did rush for 385 yards and seven touchdowns and he threw for 534 and three touchdowns.

One area Isaacs would like to clean up was the 26 lost fumbles on the center-quarterback exchange. Seven came in one game, a 14-2 loss to Meadow Bridge.

“It was Friday the 13th,” Isaacs said. “I told one of the officials I would never play on Friday the 13th again.”

Fortunately – or, maybe hopefully, given the state of the current COVID-19 pandemic – there is another year for Vines, and no Friday the 13th games, at least in the regular season.

Vines returns to lead the Patriots this season as a senior. Isaacs is expecting big things from his rising senior signalcaller.

“I am, in fact I just texted him a couple weeks ago and said ‘big things are going to happen for you this year,’ “ Isaacs said. 

“I really believe that. He has sent me video of him working on his passing in his yard. He’s 6-foot-1, 175 pounds and he looks the part. I think if we have the season a lot of people are going to say ‘where did that kid come from.’”

Isaacs believes his quarterback is capable of having a season in the area of 1,000 rushing/passing season. While he isn’t as fleet afoot as Austin Isaacs was, he does, the coach said, have a stronger arm.

“I thought he had those capabilities last year, but when you start talking about losing all the linemen we lost, losing two of the top receivers and then missing your top two running backs for portions of the season, there was a lot of pressure on Chris,” Isaacs said. “He was playing with a new lineup just about every week.”

From a glass-half-full perspective, Vines has game reps with just about all the skill players on the roster and what would have been a new line this season already has a season under its belt.

It bodes well that with a healthier campaign from his teammates, Vines will morph into the quarterback everyone expected last fall.

Midland Trail opens the season Sept. 4 at Tolsia after being open the first week of the season.

PHOTO Midland Trail quarterback Chris Vines watches for a play to be signalled in during the 2019 season. Vines returns and with a healthy team is poised to have a breakout season Photo courtesy Frank Isaacs.