Injured LB inspiring Lenape

Lenape linebacker Dom Bounasissi. (Akira Suwa/Staff Photographer)

Dom Bounasissi won't make a tackle for Lenape this season.

He won't make a block on special teams, won't blitz on third and long, won't cover a running back on a pattern in the flat.

He won't play, period.

But Bounasissi still will make an impact for a team filled with guys just like him: seniors who are determined to push the Indians into prominence after years and years in the shadows of more accomplished programs.

"He was one of our leaders, and he's still one of our leaders," Lenape senior running back/defensive back Ben Hunt said.

This is a special time for senior football players and 12th graders in other fall sports, as well. It's the brink of their final season, their last chance to make memories that can last a lifetime.

You can see it at every practice for every team. There's optimism in the air, a sure sense that this is going to be one of those special seasons.

That's certainly the case at Lenape. The Indians have been a 4-6 team for each of the last four seasons, but this year's senior class is deep enough and talented enough and experienced enough to flip the script at long last.

Bounasissi was planning on playing a direct role in that. He had started as a junior at linebacker, making more and more of an impact during the season.

"Our spiritual leader," Lenape coach Tim McAneney said. "He's a weight-room kid, a true dedicated player. The end of last year, he was going sideline to sideline, making plays all over the field."

On June 1, Bounasissi and some of his teammates attended "Lauren's First and Goal," a camp at Lafayette College that raises money for pediatric brain tumor research.

In a noncontact drill, Bounasissi got tangled with another player and landed awkwardly on his left knee.

This wasn't a typical knee injury. This was complete dislocation of the knee, with tears of all the ligaments that hold the joint together.

"I heard Dom got hurt, but I didn't know how bad it was," Hunt said. "When I found out, I really did cry. I knew how much it hurt him."

Bounasissi's problems were just beginning. He was rushed to Easton Hospital, and doctors there relocated the knee.

But a few days later, Bounasissi developed compartment syndrome - a life-threatening condition that occurs after an injury when there is insufficient blood flow because of increased pressure - and spent nearly two weeks in Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, undergoing three surgeries.

"My shin just completely blew up," Bounasissi said. "They told me they almost had to amputate."

During his ordeal, Bounasissi said he lost 45 pounds. He knew he wouldn't play football again for Lenape, but he was determined to help the team.

"I felt ashamed, like I let the team down," Bounasissi said. "I felt like I couldn't look my teammates in the face."

Bounasissi underwent surgery in late June to repair two ligaments in the knee. He is scheduled to undergo another operation - the last one, he hopes - in October.

He has been a regular at practice, moving around the field on crutches, staying on the perimeter of the linebacking drills. He helps the coaches when he can, tries to stay positive with his teammates.

"This is a kid who will text me that he's going to miss practice because he has to go to the doctor," McAneney said. "That's how dedicated he is to this team."

Bounasissi might not realize it, but he's playing a major role for the Indians.

For one thing, his misfortune is a reminder to all his teammates of the fleeting and fragile nature of their scholastic careers. Seniors always seem to sense that, as the clock winds down.

But seeing a classmate on crutches, unable to play his final season - that's a bracing reminder of the urgency of the situation.

There's something else at work here, too. When teammates see a kid who can't even play still pouring his heart into it, still coming to practice, still caring, it makes them want to play even harder.

"Everybody waits for their senior year," Hunt said. "They say high school football is the best four years of your life, and you want to make the most of your senior year.

"Seeing Dom lose that, seeing it taken away from him, it makes us want to play even harder for him this season."