Unity's Innes makes mark on special teams
TOLONO — Unity’s Cody Innes went 100 weeks between football games.
Many high school athletes would have called it a career by that point, knowing there’s not a collegiate future at stake.
Innes had different thoughts.
“All my friends play, and I’ve played football since fifth grade,” Innes said. “I love the sport and wanted to be a part of it.
“The doctor said my sports career could have been done. I’m lucky I get to play.”
Innes’ woes started as a sophomore when he was tackled in a junior varsity game the fourth week of the season.
He shattered the tibia and broke the fibula. He endured two surgeries, one to graft bone from his hip, and spent countless hours in rehab.
Innes sat out his sophomore seasons of basketball and baseball. He still was sidelined as a junior for football and basketball, but he recovered in time for baseball last spring.
He’s now back at it with football, though not in the role that might have been projected when he was one of Unity’s promising sophomore players in 2010.
“The positions he plays (tight end and linebacker) are difficult when you miss two years,” said Unity coach Scott Hamilton, whose team travels to Williamsville on Saturday for a 2 p.m. quarterfinal game in Class 3A.
Innes didn’t return expecting to be the star.
“I knew I’d be in a secondary role,” he said. “This year, I wanted to be one of the players that if someone got hurt I could help out for a game or two until they got better.”
That’s what the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder has done. He started one game (at outside linebacker) and has been on the field for the others, primarily on the kickoff and punt coverage teams.
“Cody represents what we stand for,” Hamilton said, “that it takes a full group of 50 kids. He has accepted his role and gives it everything he has.
“Some days, he moves pretty well. Some days, it’s a struggle. He never complains. Never asks to sit out. He’s another in a long list of seniors who have given everything to help the team.”
Innes understands the situation.
“I’d like to get in more,” he said, “but I know my friends are better than me and will do a better job. I’ll watch them and be another eye from the sidelines.”
Innes is one of three Unity seniors (along with Derek Hooker and Mitch Negangard) expected to play football, basketball and baseball this school year. His comeback remains in progress.
“I still limp, and there’s quite a bit of pain,” Innes said, “but it’s more the muscle and not the bone. The bone is 100 percent.”
When Innes has a chance to get on the field, he’s not tentative or reserved.
“It has probably made me play harder,” he said. “You never know when your last game will be. It makes me play 100 percent.
“I know my future is not in sports.”
That wasn’t his mind-set as a sophomore. As a shortstop and third baseman, he was invited to advanced baseball camps, including one at the University of Illinois.
“After the injury, everything (recruitingwise) stopped,” he said.
Hamilton said Innes’ story is perhaps more meaningful and inspiring to the coaches than many of his teammates.
“Kids think they’re invincible and live life one day at a time,” Hamilton said. “They don’t think about what happened two years ago, but I think they respect the fact that here’s a senior who stuck it out and helped our guys get better.”
Innes hopes to follow in the footsteps of an uncle, Mike Hyde — who died earlier this year — as an electrician.
“I would like to carry on the business,” Innes said.
For at least one more day, he will carry with him something else: the dream of a state championship in his final year of organized football.
“It’s great to still be in the playoffs,” Innes said. “I get to put on the pads for another game.”
LeRoy stays home
The other area team still in contention for a state championship is LeRoy, which hosts Concord Triopia on Saturday in a Class 1A quarterfinal. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.
What separates the Panthers from most small-school programs is the team’s depth. Seventeen different squad members (on a roster of 47) will be in the starting lineup.
Of the front seven on offense, only one (tight end Nic Aupperle) plays regularly on defense. He’s a defensive back.
“With six one-way guys (on the frontline), that makes quite a bit of difference being able to get off the ball,” LeRoy coach B.J. Zeleznik said. “We’re not big, and that allows our guys to play fast because they’re fresh.”
It’s also an advantage at practice.
“All week, our offensive linemen do nothing but offensive line,” Zeleznik said.
LeRoy has won all 11 of its games. Triopia is 10-1, but Zeleznik said “their program is one of the best 1A football programs in the state. Their record of consistency is one you can’t argue with.
“They are fundamentally very good. The team they have is a product of the program.”
Triopia has qualified for the playoffs 23 times, including the last 12 years in a row. The school has advanced to the state championship game four times.