It was sometime while I was watching the night sky become a flickering strobe last week that my phone buzzed with the first message. While I was waiting for the lightning to pass so high school football games in our area finally could kick off, a parent texted to say McCallie's talented defensive lineman Jay Hardy had been injured and it didn't look good.
Defensive linemen like Hardy, a four-star prospect and one of the state's top overall recruits, often get knees or ankles banged into during the course of a game because they're typically close enough to the pile of bodies at the line of scrimmage to be in harm's way. It's unfortunate, but it happens.
But after watching video of the way Hardy suffered the MCL injury that will sideline him for 4-6 weeks — beginning with Friday night's rivalry showdown at Baylor — I felt sick to my stomach. And not just for Hardy's sake.
Early in the second half, on an extra-point attempt with Hardy lined up on the right side, West Forsyth sophomore Oscar Delp, rushing from the edge, took three quick steps before planting both feet and diving low into Hardy's right knee.
He made no attempt to make a play on the ball or engage Hardy at the line. It was clear that Delp maliciously dove into Hardy's knee with intent to injure his opponent, and after Hardy's right knee buckled on impact, he limped to the sideline. An official threw a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct but did not eject Delp, who later was allowed to re-enter the game by Wolverines coaches.
"You just cringe when you watch it," Baylor coach Phil Massey said. "In my 34 years of coaching I've never seen anything that was so intentional. It made me hurt for the kid because that's how he misses getting to play in this game as a senior.
"It really made me go back to check myself as a head coach in terms of have I ever put so much pressure on a kid to where they felt like they would want to retaliate when things aren't going our way, and what am I teaching our players as far as becoming young men? It was a shocking lack of sportsmanship and integrity."
During the course of the game Hardy was in on several tackles for loss, including one that resulted in the Wolverines quarterback suffering a broken collarbone. Whether that play, or Hardy's celebrations after tackles, irked the Wolverines to the point of retaliation is unclear.
Attempts to reach West Forsyth coach Shawn Cahill, athletic director Brett Phipps and even GHSA officials were not successful. Phone and email messages were not returned.
According to a TSSAA official, it is typically not the state high school sports governing body's place to discipline athletes for unsportsmanlike conduct. Those decisions are left up to the individual coaches and schools.
It was telling to see Delp allowed to return to the game, but earlier this week he tweeted an apology, although it did not mention Hardy by name or what he was apologizing for specifically. In the tweet he mentioned facing consequences for his actions.
The most appropriate punishment would have been for Delp to sit out for however many games Hardy misses, and to extend a personal apology.
"You hope the adults around him teach him that this is not OK to do," said McCallie coach Ralph Potter, who added he considered not finishing the game because his team was so emotional over the cheap shot that he feared a fight could break out. That could have resulted in players being suspended for this week's game.
"This should be a defining moment for (Delp) to decide to handle himself better when he's frustrated," Potter added. "Things happen in a pile that shouldn't, and even fights break out during the heat of a game. That's different. I've never seen anything this blatant in 35 years. To throw his full body weight into Jay's knee with intent to injure was disturbing."
When asked about the emotions of Hardy having to miss playing in such a significant rivalry game between two of the state's top three ranked Division II-AAA teams, Potter paused before allowing himself to smile slightly.
"We think Jay will be back for the playoffs," he said. "And I have a feeling this might not be the only time we face Baylor this season."