ST. GEORGE — As far as injuries go, the one Tyler Heaton experienced earlier this season is about as scary as it gets.
Heaton, who plays offensive and defensive line for Pine View, was making a tackle in the Panthers' third game of the season against Manti. Heaton held tight to a ball carrier, with his arm extended when PV linebacker Christian Reis came crashing into the play.
The pain was shockingly excruciating, and as Heaton looked down, he thought to himself, "My arm's not supposed to bend that way."
Heaton's right arm at the elbow was, well, pointing the wrong direction.
"I could tell it was out and, truthfully, it looked broken," said Panther defensive coordinator Brett Gifford. "They transported him 20 minutes to Mt. Pleasant and they X-rayed him and then sedated him so they could pop it back in place."
Team trainer Michelle Hudson said her job was to keep Heaton calm.
"My first job is always to calm down the athlete, and I could tell he was pretty upset," she said. "He was in a lot of pain, too."
Heaton said lot of emotions were going through him during that drive to the hospital.
"I was a pretty upset, I mean third game, senior year," he said. "I thought that was it, that my senior year was over."
The senior didn't play the next game and played sparingly, usually offense only, for a few games after that. He still wears a special arm brace to keep the traumitized joint from popping out again.
"He's actually still not 100 percent," Gifford said. "But he's getting stronger each week."
Heaton is such a beast on the line, especially on defense, it changes the way Gifford coaches.
"It means everything when he's out there," Gifford said. "Defenses have to double- and triple-team him, which leaves us with a free runner at linebacker. And if they don't double him, he makes the play every time. He's just a big strong guy who controls the interior and makes it so we can widen the defense."
Heaton, along with Brooks Maile and Solo Katoa, has made the Pine View defensive line into a powerful force. Pine View has allowed fewer than 15 points in seven games this year and fewer than eight points in four of those.
Heaton's sack on the last play of the game against Tooele on the 3AA quarterfinals helped preserve a hard-fought 38-36 win on the road for the Panthers.
"I caught him, but he spun off of me and I had him by the jersey and I just held on for dear life," Heaton said of that moment. "My fingers actually hurt because I was just trying to hold on, but I was able to bring him down.”
Panther head coach Ray Hosner said having Heaton has made all the difference this year.
“You know what, Tyler Heaton has been a beast all year and he is just nightmare for the defense,” PV head coach Ray Hosner said. “On that play, they had been triple-teaming him and he split the guys, then the back tried to block him and he split the back, too, and he just wasn’t going to be told no. He got the sack and there was four or five guys trying to block him and they couldn’t and he got the sack to win it for us.”
Heaton has four sacks this season and 51 tackles, a lot for a defensive lineman. But he still reflects on one play that he didn't make. Against Cedar last month, Heaton diagnosed a wide screen perfectly and broke perfectly for the ball.
"All my life, just once, I wanted to pick off a screen pass and take it all the way back," he said. "I had it, I read it and I just blew it. It was perfect. There was no one between me and the end zone. It was at their 20-yard line. But it went right through my hands. Man, I'll probably never get that chance again."
Despite the missed opportunity, Heaton says, he's happy that he's been able to play and the help out his team.
"It's almost back to where it was," he said. "I'm still going to wear the brace, for safety and, you know, the whole superstition thing."
Heaton and the Panthers play Desert Hills in the 3AA championship game Friday at 11 a.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Andy Griffin is a southern Utah broadcaster and sports writer and has been involved in covering sports in Utah, including professional, college and high school sports, since 1989. Andy is the sports editor at STGNews.com.