Jeff Salerno wants to play college football some day. Maybe, even next fall.
But, the Sheldon High School senior right now has the job of being his football team’s biggest encourager on the sidelines – while sitting in his wheelchair.
It was just 13 months ago, one day before the Huskies were set to open fall drills, that Jeff’s dreams of a stellar junior season were crudely dashed. As a passenger in a vehicle driven by his uncle, Salerno was badly hurt when they hit a telephone pole along Bradshaw Road, near Folsom Blvd.
|Jeff Salerno, left, with Sheldon football coach Herbie Berry
“I went through about 31 hours of surgery just to put things back together,” Salerno recalled.
That began the long, agonizing recovery process that still lingers to this day. The 6-4, 300-pound offensive lineman doesn’t show any emotional effect at all from the near-death incident. In fact, he now ranks right up there among the elite positive thinkers anywhere around.
“He was a great football player, started every game as a sophomore,” Sheldon head coach Herbie Berry said. “Wonderful, positive, hard-working, dedicated. He’s one of those guys who I knew would (graduate from high school) with a (college football) scholarship because of his size and tenacity.”
“To have something like that happen to him is so devastating to him and his family,” Berry continued. “Because it took away an opportunity that I think was clearly there for him.”
The multiple injuries prevented Salerno from attending school last year. But, that didn’t keep him from advancing ahead in his studies while recovering physically.
“I had to homeschool, but the teachers were fantastic,” he said. “They’d come to my house whenever I needed something and they were great. They stayed by my side the whole time.”
So encouraged was Salerno that as soon as he felt well enough he returned to school last month. One day he’d like to be an aircraft engineer.
“It pays well and I’ve always loved the thought of flying,” he said.
He’s still wheeling himself around in the chair with a large ankle brace the only remaining sign of the serious injury. And, he has plans to be physically ready to play football again.
“He knows the odds are against him, but he’s the type of kid that is going to try his hardest to make it happen,” Berry said.
|Salerno is greeted by members of the entire Antelope football team
Salerno wanted to thank his teammates and Berry, in particular, so on Friday in a bit of an impromptu pre-game ceremony, he asked Berry to join him at the 50-yard line while a letter to the team, written by Salerno, was read over the public address system. Then he gave Berry and the Huskies’ football program a check for $1000, money raised by him and his family as their way of saying thank you for all the support shown Salerno during his recovery.
The financial gift was definitely the highlight of the night for the Huskies and all their fans because once the game with Antelope kicked off, things rapidly deteriorated. The Titans (1-1) took advantage of a pair of early Sheldon (1-1) turnovers to jump to a big lead right away and then cruised to a 56-9 victory.
“The game got out of hand early and we were never able to recover,” Berry observed.
The Titans returned the opening kickoff to the Sheldon 45. Antelope quarterback Montel Aaron then hooked up with Mister Harriel on a 44-yard play to the one. Aaron snuck the ball across on the next play to give the Titans a 6-0 lead, after Casey Burton missed the extra point kick. Just one minute had clicked off the clock.
EGUSD Week One Results
Monterey Trail 29, Inderkum 27
Bellarmine 42, Franklin 28
Granite Bay 40, Cosumnes Oaks 7
Delhi 40, Florin 12
Valley 44, Natomas 43
Christian Brothers 46, Laguna Creek 23
On Sheldon’s third play from scrimmage Huskies’ quarterback Nathan Berry was picked off by Devin Elmore at the Sheldon 45. Antelope scored eight plays later to make it 13-0.
After the ensuing kickoff, Sheldon fumbled the ball on the second play from scrimmage and Zack Horsley recovered at the Sheldon 46. Four plays later, the Titans scored once again and it was 20-0 with still 4:50 remaining in the first period.
“Two huge turnovers right out the gate, they scored on both and we weren’t able to recover as a football team,” Berry said. “We have to learn how to recover. Mike Tyson used to say, ‘everybody has a game plan until you get hit in the face.’ I think that’s what happened to us tonight.”
Berry said he was encouraged by the play of sophomore running back Graylon Lindsey III.
“He ran really hard all night,” Berry said. “He’s super-talented and never gives up. Even though we were way down, he ran as hard as he could in the first quarter, same in the fourth.”
|Sheldon quarterback Nathan Berry gets advice from last year's
|QB, Nolan Merker
The third-year head coach took a share of the blame for the poor performance on himself.
“I don’t think we were as well prepared as we should have been,” he admitted. “I think the kids had the kind of week of practice that was conducive to success and I think we need to bare down in preparation and have more complete practices that are preparing us for the games on Friday night.”
This Friday, the Huskies travel to Auburn to take on Placer.
“We know Placer is big up front,” Berry said. “We know they have a good and strong offensive and defensive line. So, what we have to do is try to out-athlete them. Try to get the ball in space, see if we can make it difficult for them with our athletes.”