Green Hope's Chris Tutwiler working his way back following injury

tstevens@newsobserver.comMarch 31, 2014 

Green Hope outfielder Chris Tutwiler said if there is a football coach anywhere who is looking for a guy who would love to go through two-a-day drills on a 100-degree day, who would enjoy late practice sprints and would love to pull on a helmet again, just let him know.

Tutwiler is enjoying his senior season on the Falcons’ baseball team, although he is not completely healed after a traumatic football injury last fall. He would like to play football again.

His senior football season ended during a preseason scrimmage in August when he suffered a compound leg fracture. With a horrifying pop, the quarterback’s hopes were transformed into surgery, six pins to hold his left leg together and five months of rehabilitation.

“I’m finally back, almost,” Tutwiler said. “I’m about 80 percent now, but the doctors believe I’ll completely recover.”

The leg still is painful at times. He tries to ignore it.

He still limps a little, except when the thrill of playing kicks in and he is chasing a batted ball or circling the bases. He is reluctant to slide – scared of sliding actually – until he needs to.

“It’s the competitive juices,” he said.

His injury was similar to the one that ended the career of Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann. So similar that Theismann sent a hand-written note of encouragement. The note is framed, but not hung. Tutwiler doesn’t need reminders.

To wrap up Tutwiler’s Christmas, his mother, Suzanne Tutwiler, gave him a Joe Theismann ornament. It was a joke.

“My getting hurt was probably as tough mentally on my parents as it was on me,” Tutwiler said. “I have never really told them how much they meant to me, but they were great. They were always there and always understood what I was going through.”

The football season was tough.

He was a captain and this was his team. After he hobbled to midfield on his crutches for the pre-game coin flip there was little he could do to help during a 5-7 season. He leaned on crutches most of his year on the sidelines.

Tutwiler dressed the final game, a 14-13 loss to Wakefield, and he loved pulling on the pads and helmet. He wasn’t medically cleared to play, but there was a sense of closure. He was back where he started.

Green Hope baseball coach Mike Miragliuolo eased Tutwiler into the season after doctors cleared him to play on Feb. 1. Tutwiler played center field last year, but Miragliuolo used him as a designated hitter in the first few games before moving him to the outfield.

Tutwiler said he can’t cover as much ground in the outfield as he once did. He might look fast, he said, “but I’m not nearly as fast as I was on August 16,” referring to the day before the painful scrimmage.

Miragliuolo said Tutwiler, who is hitting .316, seems to be getting better day by day. “He is still getting over his injury, but he is a big part of this team,” the coach said. “We’re glad we’ve got him back.”

Tutwiler said he has been changed by his experience.

“I don’t take things for granted,” he said. “I have two legs and I can play sports. I don’t have to get help to go to the bathroom. Sports are a privilege. Walking is a privilege. Just being healthy is a privilege.

“I’ve learned to appreciate a lot of things more.”

His experience with Jeff Herbst, a physical therapist at Wake Orthopaedics, has kindled a desire to study exercise science. Tutwiler plans to go to UNC Charlotte, but is unsure if he’ll try to walk on in football or baseball. He is still healing.

He would love to go to football practice again, but doesn’t know if that will be possible. If not this year, then perhaps next year.

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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