Senior Overcomes Injury to Lead Panthers

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The New Lexington Panthers have been the surprise of the MVL this season, starting 5-2 following a disappointing 2-8 season. A large factor to their strong start is senior quarterback KJ Hook. While Hook’s numbers have been impressive, what is most impressive is what he went through just to get back onto the field.

During his junior season, Hook was a playmaking wide receiver for the Panthers.

“He was explosive and fast,” said New Lexington Head Coach Bill Nutt. “He was able to do the things we needed to do to win games.”

Unfortunately for Nutt and the Panthers, Hook was not able to play the whole season. Halfway through the year he began experiencing pain in his right leg. Gradually the pain became so severe Hook went to the doctor for a diagnosis. What they heard was not what they expected.

The doctors discovered Hook was suffering from compartment syndrome, a rare condition that affects the muscles in the lower legs. Hook would then undergo season-ending surgery and rehabilitation that put him out of commission for four months.

“It was tough,” said Hook. “Not for the rehab or anything, just not being able to play with my friends and finish the season with them.”

“It was very disappointing,” said Nutt. “It really hurt having him out of the lineup.”

“It was hard for me to sit there and watch him sit out the sidelines,” said KJ’s mother, Karen Hook. “Knowing he wanted to be in the game to help his teammates.”

The loss of their playmaker disappointed the team, but they would turn that disappointment into motivation.

“We wanted to win for him,” said current center, senior Alan Randolph. “It made us work harder in practice.”

With that strong support, Hook worked vigorously to rejoin his team, something he had not done before.

“For the first time he really and truly busted his butt to become a good athlete,” said Nutt.

The hard work resulted in Hook being named the starting quarterback, a move his teammates were confident in.

“We felt good because we knew he is a playmaker,” said Randolph. “So we figured that he could get the ball where it needed to be and make the plays that we needed.”

And the senior has done just that. Through seven games he has totaled 1,279 yards and 18 touchdowns.

“We knew he had that potential but now he’s realizing it,” said Nutt.

The fact that those numbers are coming in his senior season means a lot to Hook and his family.

“It means everything,” said KJ. “It's awesome to play with my friends and have a good time.”

“I know he’s worked so hard since 3rd grade to be out there,” said Mrs. Hook. “It makes me proud. To see him go out there it meant so much.”

Hook will have to continue his stellar play if he hopes to lead the Panthers to the postseason. With only three games remaining, New Lexington sits fourteenth in Division III Region 11, but still has a chance to finish in the top eight. The first step toward that goal is when they face the Crooksville Ceramics in week eight.