KILLEEN — It was a freak accident. A gruesome break. A tragic turn of events.
A few series into a first-round playoff game, senior Travis Pirtle’s football career was over.
“I really wasn’t concerned with pain when it happened,” he recalled. “I was really thinking, this is it, this is the last snap I’ll ever take.”
Pirtle, an all-state receiver, dislocated his ankle and broke his fibula in three places while blocking downfield on Nov. 11. Running back Gunnar Dorsey was tackled into the back of Pirtle’s leg, sending Travis — and his dad, head coach Terry Pirtle — immediately to the hospital.
“I knew it was bad,” Travis said. “I knew my ankle was dislocated, but I didn’t really know that the bone was broken because my ankle was off to the side. I could move it but it was painful.”
On Saturday, Travis became a coach, helping the Guard make second-half adjustments that boosted Brook Hill to a 26-3 victory over Austin Regents in the TAPPS Division III state final.
“It felt great; it felt like it didn't even matter that I was hurt,” Travis said. “I felt like I was a part of it. After the final seeconds went down I just couldn't control it. It was great even though I got hurt.”
The Pirtles shared an embrace as the final seconds ticked off.
“As a parent it's heartbreaking but it was so refreshing the way the kids rallied around him,” Terry said of the injury. “For him to get that and his senior year is an unbelievable thing. He'll have that to cherish.”
Before he was hurt, Travis had 36 catches for 508 yards and seven touchdowns. He also threw for 805 yards, playing quarterback throughout the year and being the starter early in the season while Will Weathers was injured.
Though his playing days were finished, Travis quickly switched roles. Always a coach on the field as a player, Travis would tell people where to be and explain plays. Throughout the playoffs Travis became a coach on the sideline.
“I try not to think about (not playing again),” Travis said. “I try to think more of I need to help my team try to win games and not think about myself, because that’s not really what it’s about. I can’t really change how my leg’s broken and how I can’t play, so I just try to see how I can help my team scheme a way to win and not be so self-centered.”
Travis also helps his dad out.
“A lot of times my dad gets a little lost too so I have to push him in the right direction,” Travis said. “Sometimes my dad asks if he wants a different point of view and see what I think and I’ll try to show him what I would do.”
The transition from playing to coaching wasn’t been easy.
“It’s a lot harder to watch because you can control a lot more when you’re playing,” Travis said. “It’s rough. You have to think sometimes that I could be out there doing that but you have to encourage others to take your spot.”
Travis was in the press box for the first half and the sideline for the second half. At halftime, Travis came down to tell his offense that the Knights defense wasn't reacting to the Guard's overload sets and how the Regents secondary was rotating.
The tips helped running back Gunnar Dorsey explode for two long touchdowns and 135 yards in the second half.
“I was able to see how they would adjust to our formations that we kept having and it really helped because we could see how we could exploit them a lot in the second half and we knew that we could run the ball a lot more,” Travis said.
Coach Pirtle said his son's insights helped Brook Hill in the second half.
“One thing I'm trying to do is shy him away from coaching,” Terry said. “But he's got it in him a little bit. He did give us some good stuff.”
While Travis said he wasn't sure what his coaching future would entail, he couldn't have been happier with his final game in high school.
“I'm just glad we could finally do it,” said Travis, who came to Brook Hill as a sophomore and had lost in the state final the last two years. “I can't describe how I feel.”
Travis didn't have to describe it, his smile through the tears said it all.