OWASSO, Okla. — Ohio State signee Josh Proctor protected the secret long enough.
By now, it’s safe for the Owasso (Okla.) product to admit that all those viral highlights, individual awards and the state championship he helped win came when he wasn’t even at full strength.
In fact, he hadn’t been completely healthy for months after suffering an ankle injury in just the third game of the season. The issue popped up repeatedly, was supposed to keep him on the sidelines — and nearly knocked him out of the historic, drought-snapping title game.
“Nobody knew that, except for our coaches and our team,” Proctor said, pounding a basketball before practice with the Rams on Tuesday while flashing a wide grin. “It was just nagging me the whole season. Then we got into the playoffs, the body is worn down, and it seemed like every game I tweaked it. I would get rolled up on or cut wrong, and in the state championship, I just kept telling myself, ‘I can’t go out, I can’t go out.’
“It was a high-ankle sprain, for sure. And I may have chipped some little pieces in there. The doctors knew, and they really wanted me to sit out for some of the games — but I felt like I had to play them.”
For a program such as Ohio State, which prize competitive spirit above almost all else in evaluating recruits, that type of willingness to fight through pain to stay on the field helped make Proctor a no-brainer for the 2018 signing class.
Of course, his 4-star status, off-the-charts athleticism and positional fit at safety surely didn’t hurt, either. And they also were in on Proctor’s secret since defensive coordinator Greg Schiano saw him in a walking boot during a visit to Ohio State back in September.
Proctor kept on making plays for the Rams, helping lead a remarkable turnaround from a 3-7 campaign while making national headlines for plays such as his vicious stiff-arm in an early scrimmage or his 103-yard interception return a few weeks later. Maybe there might have been even more highlights if the ankle injury hadn’t flared up. But regardless, it didn’t stop him from contributing to a state-championship win that broke up a stranglehold from two programs in nearby Tulsa that had passed it back and forth for 21 years.
“He rolled his ankle in that game and was sitting over on the sideline, they were figuring out what they were going to do with it,” Owasso basketball coach Brian Montonati said. “And I think part of the motivation was, ‘Look, you’re playing for something that you may never get another opportunity to play for. Are you injured or are you hurt?’
“For him it was like: If you can get out there and go, do it. Tell those guys to tape you and get out there. He said, ‘I’m ready to go.’ I have a lot of stories like that with him, because he’s just one of those special kids.”
The Buckeyes will get their hands on him next in the summer. And based on the way he’s been bouncing around the hardwood for the Rams, that ankle should be just fine as Proctor tries to jump into the mix for playing time after starting safety Damon Webb’s graduation.
Even if it’s not, it apparently takes more than a sprain and a couple chipped “little pieces” to keep him on the sideline.
“He’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of guy that you get to coach,” Owasso defensive coordinator Bobby Klinck said. “That’s really exciting, but he’s also a very humble kid, and that’s what I love about him. [Winning a championship] takes a lot of culture change and that sort of thing, but ultimately it takes having that one great player.
“I had coached a couple other places that were chasing [Tulsa powerhouses] Jenks and Union, and they would always have those guys who at a moment’s notice could break the game open with a big play. Josh would do that. And even if he didn’t, there was always that possibility it could happen.”
And either way, Proctor wasn’t going to let a nagging ankle injury keep him from trying.
Or spill his secret until he was ready.