Varsity Extra

Watching from the sidelines: Grisly accident keeps cornerback out of the lineup

Carnell, in black, tackles Eagle High receiver J.C. Drake short of the goal line during an October 2006 football game.
Carnell, in black, tackles Eagle High receiver J.C. Drake short of the goal line during an October 2006 football game.

This story originally appeared in the Idaho Statesman on Nov. 2, 2007.

Capital High cornerback Sean Carnell relished the chance to be a leader for a talented group of young players in the Eagles' secondary.

"I was ready to step up and the coached talked about me being a role model, " said Carnell, who had 33 tackles for the Eagles in 2006 and was penciled in to start at cornerback this fall.

He never got the chance because of a grisly car accident June 14.

Instead of lining up against Vallivue at 7 p.m. Friday in the first round of the 5A state playoffs, the junior will be in the stands at Bronco Stadium cheering for his teammates.

The night of the accident, Carnell and eight friends -- including five teammates -- had just finished playing pickup football at River Glen Junior High and were leaving to hang out at a friend's house. Carnell said he and defensive back Julio Flores hopped into the back of friend Sean Johnson's pickup. Linebacker Trevor Fike was in the passenger seat.

Moments later, Carnell was pinned under the side of the pickup after it rolled and dragged him 30 feet before coming to a stop. Linebacker Mason Mack and offensive lineman Nick Hughes lifted the truck off him and called 911, Carnell said. Flores, Fike and Johnson were uninjured.

"I remember everything, it was excruciating, " Carnell said. "You fall off a skateboard and get that scrape on your arm and you think, 'Man, that hurts.' It's that multiplied by 10. My face just burned. I was scared. ... The left side of my face was basically completely gone. You could see all of the bones."

An ambulance rushed Carnell to St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, where he remained for a week. He said doctors used a titanium plate to stabilize the area surrounding his left eye, and wounds on his arms and legs were wrapped in gauze and cleaned every day.

"I have to admit it's tough not being out there playing, but if you ever get in an accident like mine that takes you away from something you love, you just always have to look up to the good things, " Carnell said. "For me, I was bummed about my whole football season, how I couldn't play, but the main thing I have to remember is I'm still walking. I'm still alive. You have to look at the brighter side of things."

He hopes surgery to further stabilize his eye will restore his ability to blink and help him find his way back to the football field next year. For now, Carnell's teammates said he's in their hearts.

"I felt like I lost someone to lean on when he got hurt, because this is my first year as a starter, " safety Scott Marshall said. "He's still part of the team. We break our huddle with his cheer, 'Set it off, get it started.' That's his thing and when we say that, it's for him."

Senior Benson Manwaring is doing his best to fill Carnell's shoes at cornerback opposite sophomore Kasen Covington.

"I stepped into his spot and he's my heart, so I play hard for him, " Manwaring said. "He's hurting right now and he wants to play so bad, so I really feel for him. He's a great player."

Carnell's health was the team's initial concern, but coach Todd Simis was also aware he'd eventually have to find a way to fill his shoes at cornerback.

"After we found out he was going to be OK, we were just so happy, " Simis said. "It was scary. It was really unfortunate, because he was one of our best players and he loves football. We miss having him around, because he's a great guy, too."

In Carnell's absence, his job fell into the hands of Manwaring and sophomore Eric Niblett, who share time at cornerback and wide receiver.

"(Manwaring) is playing so well at cornerback, he's managed to stay on the field most of the time, " Simis said. "He has a football player's DNA, so we knew he'd be fine playing both sides of the ball."

Covington has the other cornerback position locked up, while sophomore Kyle Sosnowksi and Marshall line up at the two safety positions for the Eagles. Sosnowski, who started the summer as a tight end, has a team-leading five interceptions and Marshall has 74 tackles.

"(Covington, Sosnowski and Niblett) are just natural athletes and they're gamers, " secondary coach Chad McKibben said. "(Manwaring) has played really well and (Marshall) is just the glue that holds them together. ... It's easy as a coach, because they've made me look good."

Capital's defense is limiting opponents to 271 yards and 15.1 points per game, and the Eagles wrapped up the 5A Southern Idaho Conference Division I championship with a 27-0 victory over Mountain View last week.

"The guys have stepped up, " Carnell said. "It's exciting watching my boys out there, but I miss playing with them."

Carnell, who said he can play basketball and run track, hopes to have surgery sometime in late winter or early spring.

"It should heal up in time for summer workouts next year, " Carnell said. "With all of these young guys, we'll be good again next year, but I hope they go all the way to a state title this year. It's going to be exciting."