Senior Traveon Samuel, the heart and soul of the Central offense, suffered a fractured fibula in the first quarter of his team’s 20-14 win over Murphy in last Friday’s Class 7A first round, coach Jamey DuBose confirmed on Monday.
While he is officially ruled out for Friday, DuBose wouldn’t look further into the future, noting that it was a fracture — not a break — and that he would have a chance to return should Central make it to the state championship game, which would be Dec. 3 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“We’ll play it by ear and see what happens,” he said.
The injury was sustained on an incomplete screen play on which Samuel took a helmet to the lower part of his leg and never returned to the game. Prior to his injury, Samuel recorded a 19-yard touchdown reception for the Red Devils’ first score of the game. Perhaps due in part to his absence, Central compiled its fewest points in a game this season.
“It’s a disappointing thing for him and for all our team,” DuBose said. “No matter who it is. We don’t want anybody to miss out and not be playing. At the same time, it’s one of those things in life that happens.”
Losing Samuel comes at a difficult time as Central is preparing for a quarterfinal matchup on Friday against Prattville, a team with a potent offense that scored 34 in a loss to Central earlier this season. Samuel tallied over 250 all-purpose yards in that contest.
The lack of his speed and versatility, which is the engine that has made the offense run all season, changes the dynamic in a few ways. This season, he has compiled 859 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing at clip of 7.5 yards per carry. Through the air, he is the team’s leading receiver with 569 yards and five touchdowns. He has also been a consistent threat in the return game, scoring once and causing opposing teams to punt out of bounds for shorter yardage on numerous occasions.
As he has been all season, though, DuBose was insistent that his team has the playmakers outside of Samuel to fill in the gaps.
“This team has a lot of playmakers,” he said. “Tra knows that too. When someone goes down, (Samuel) steps up in other ways. He’s been in all the meetings and has been talking to guys and telling them things he sees. He’s always been one who can talk. He’s not a quiet leader. He’s a guy who knows how to talk and he’s a guy people listen to. It just means he’s not making plays on the field. He’s still got a huge role in helping us get to the next level.”
DuBose said he and his coaching staff were together late on Sunday night trying to come up with the best plan to adjust to Samuel’s absence.
Guys like Jaxton Carson have stepped up all year, and DuBose said he’d be one who will have to continue the trend this week. It also means quarterback Zion Webb will have to find a more consistent connection with his big receivers, Quan Weaver, Jamal Couch and Justin Ross, all of whom measure north of 6-foot-3 and are potential big-play threats.
“Guys are excited,” DuBose said. “It’s like Tra said the other night, it just means someone else has the opportunity to step up and be that guy. We were hoping that’d be in 2015, but now it’ll happen right now. Our goal as a group is to win enough to see if we can get him back on the field. If we’re fortunate enough to be playing in Auburn (at the state championship) in a few weeks, don’t be shocked if Tra trots out and plays. That’s the type of guy he is.”
Indeed, posed with the question of whether or not he’d be ready if Central did play in the season finale, Samuel sent a one-sentence message in response.
“Yes, sir, I can make it back.”