Keaton Perry had every reason to quit. Sitting in the training room, towel over his head, tears streaming down his face.
It was Sept. 6 and Arlington Bowie was playing Mesquite, just as the Volunteers had in Week 2 last season. Perry, a senior quarterback, had pulled the ball down and taken off around left end. Finding no running room, he made a cut to bounce the play outside.
That’s when he felt the pop in his right knee. Same team, same play, same pop.
After taking a moment to compose himself, he limped into the locker room to tell his teammates that he had just torn an anterior cruciate ligament for the third time in as many years.
“When he told us I just broke down,” said Mason Ray, Perry’s center and best friend since their days at Shackelford Junior High. “It felt like someone had ripped out my heart. We’re like brothers. I’ve known him for so long.”
Perry, 17, is the son of former Bowie coach Kenny Perry, who is now on the TCU staff. All Keaton wanted was one full season under the lights.
“I can vividly remember when I was in the seventh grade at Shackelford hearing the Lamar Viking band play over at Cravens Field and getting goosebumps and feeling alive inside,” Perry remembered. “I wanted to play quarterback for my dad under the lights on Friday nights.”
After the game, in a show of solidarity, the team dedicated the remainder of the season to their fallen quarterback.
Coach Danny DeArman had given his team the motto, “Family First” at the beginning of the season and the boys had taken it to heart.
“Keaton meant so much to all of us, we wanted to do something special,” DeArman said. “Someone had the idea to get shirts made. On the front they say ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ and on the back there’s the No. 7 and it says ‘Yes I am.’ Everyone wears them under their pads.”
The message was simple: Keaton was family. He wasn’t going to be forgotten.
“The kids loved it,” DeArman said. “It was unbelievable. I felt like he really appreciated it and understood what he meant to everyone.”
But Perry had a surprise of his own.
In the two weeks that had passed since his injury, he had met with his doctor to ask a question.
“I wanted to know what would happen if I didn’t have surgery this time,” Perry said. “I asked him if I could play with it the way it was.”
To Perry’s surprise, the doctor told him it was, indeed possible. Since the ligament in the right knee that was torn was a replacement from his previous surgery, there wasn’t any major swelling or fluid retention that was normally associated with an ACL injury.
He wouldn’t be as mobile, but with a proper brace he could play if he could bear the pain.
The next day Perry stunned his teammates, showing up to practice and jogging from sideline to sideline.
“He had called me and told me he was going to come back,” Ray said. “No one else knew, but I knew and I made him a promise. I told him when he’s in the backfield, no one’s getting through me.”
The following Friday, Perry suited up for Bowie’s first district game against Weatherford.
“What’s funny is, even though he came back we were still wearing the shirts,” said DeArman. “Not once did any of the kids ask ‘Hey, Coach, he’s back, why are we still wearing these?’”
With his new knee brace strapped to his injured right knee, Perry picked apart the Weatherford defense, throwing for 206 yards and four touchdowns in just two quarters of play.
“I was really down on myself after my injury,” Perry said. “I honestly didn’t think I would ever play again, but my teammates and my family gave me the motivation to push on, and this season has actually turned out to be all I had hoped it would be.”
Perry finished the regular season with more than 1,500 yards passing, along with 18 touchdowns, leading his team to the playoffs, where it will face Southlake Carroll at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Cowboys Stadium in Coppell.
And if you get to the game early enough, you’ll probably see 60 No. 7s warming up on the field before the game.
“This team is a family,” Ray said. “We have each other’s back, and no one can change that.”