STRATFORD—When James Savko tripped over himself and fell during the first play of the annual 7-on-7 Rip It and Grip It Tournament back in July, he thought the only two things he hurt were his pride and his funny bone.
When he found out he broke his arm and would need surgery, though, nobody was laughing.
His senior season and his career as a Bunnell High School football player appeared to be over.
“It crushed me,” said Savko, a 5-foot-19, 195-pound middle linebacker for the Bulldogs, who even sent out a tweet announcing the devastating news.
This week, however, Savko and his team are eyeing a possible silver lining in the future.
He has an appointment with a doctor that could get him to cleared to play—with a specially produced soft cast—before the season is over.
“It’s good news. I’m pretty happy about it,” said Savko, who had surgery in early August to repair two breaks in his arm. “The cast is supposed to be off on Sept 14th, but we might be able to wrap it up and play. I’ll be talking to the doctor about that and hopefully getting cleared around week three or four.”
That’s very good news for new Bunnell football coach Tywan Jenkins, whose team returns its top three tacklers from last season’s 9-2, state-tournament team.
Savko led that tackling barrage with 83 tackles in 10 games, per the team’s statistics on Maxpreps.com.
“He’s been Superman here for a while,” Jenkins said. “Well, Superman took a hit and his confidence took a hit. When I took this job, I knew how great he was, but I challenged him and made him compete, and he didn’t back down. He’s always done great.”
Jenkins admitted, though, that there was another challenge in reeling Savko in a little bit in order to make him even more lethal on the defensive side of the ball.
Last year, Savko flew to the ball with a sometimes-reckless abandon and while that delivered some great hits and great plays, it also led to some mistakes.
Eliminating those mistakes would make Savko even better, Jenkins noticed.
“I think we were on two different playing fields, at first,” Jenkins said. “As a defensive guy, I’m all about being sound. There is a place and a time to be everywhere, but he was untamed.”
With Bunnell facing a tough schedule in 2019—including non-conference games against North Haven, Fitch and Wilton, and league showdowns against SWC strongholds Newtown and Brookfield—Jenkins wants his defense playing smart every play.
Savko admitted it was a tough adjustment during spring football, but he’s bought into what Jenkins is selling.
“He kind of wanted to change it up a bit,” Savko said. “When I blitz, I go full speed and he wants me to read and react a little more. It was tough at first, but I got the hang of it.
“I’ve been playing the way I’ve been playing for a while now, but he just wants to make me a better player,” Savko added.
Getting that extra shot to become a better player is all Savko wants now—that and a shot of possibly playing in college.
“I’m just trying to get back in shape,” Savko said. “I’m running around the track since I can’t go out on the field.”
He hasn’t been on the field since that fateful day in New Canaan.
The injury occurred on a simple out route when Savko stumbled and fell.
“I just fell on my arm. I thought it was my funny bone. It was a little numb,” he said. “I sat on the sideline and it didn’t go away. The (on-site) trainers said I broke my arm and sent me to the hospital.”
Surgery was delayed until August because it appeared the bone would mend on its own.
Now, though, Jenkins can’t wait for Savko to be back in the Bulldogs’ huddle.
“He’s been around the team,” Jenkins said. “We’re looking forward to getting him back.
Savko has liked what he’s seen out of the Bulldogs this preseason.
“They look tough and physical,” he said. “The first thing coach told us when he was hired was that we were going to have that dog mentality and now I can see it. They’re ready.”
And, before the end of the season, Bunnell could have its top Bulldog back.
(On the Sidelines is an occasional online column written by Stratford Sports Scene managing editor John Nash)