PART OF THE CAST that encased the Strath Haven High fullback Thurman Fortune's left arm last summer sits somewhere in his basement, an instant reminder of where he was, and where he doesn't want to return. The powerful and speedy 5-7, 170-pound senior occasionally catches a glimpse of the cast, and for a brief instant, it brings him back to the day he heard the snap of his bones during a scrimmage that forced him to miss five games last year.

Entering this season, Fortune vowed that he wouldn't be derailed again - that nothing would prevent him from playing football. Not a broken left wrist or broken growth plate he suffered in consecutive seasons. For the first time as a varsity player, Fortune is healthy, and it shows both in Strath Haven's 3-1 overall record and in how opposing teams game-plan to stop him.

That will be the case tonight, when the Panthers, 3-0 in the Central League, travel to Conestoga (3-1, 2-1), in what will be one of the highlight games of the weekend. The Pioneers will have to give great attention to Fortune, who is among Delaware County's leading rushers, with 657 yards, averaging 9.7 yards a carry, and four touchdowns.

Fortune's present seems light-years from this time last year, when he was restricted to watching from the sideline after breaking his left forearm during a scrimmage in the summer.

"I thought that was it, I was done, I wouldn't play again," recalled Fortune, who also missed the first month of his sophomore year with a broken left wrist. "I'll always remember that day. It was a scrimmage, and I was trying to get some extra yards, when someone jumped on my back, and I tried holding myself up with my left hand. I could hear the bones crack."

The next thing Fortune knew, he was in the back seat of his parents' car heading to the hospital.

"I've been playing football since I was 5, and I never suffered a broken bone or a serious injury before," Fortune said. "You have a lot of things going through your head when something like that happens. I thought that I would never play football again."

But he mended. And as an extra precaution, he wore added padding on his left forearm. He came back midway into last season, a trying and uncharacteristic year for coach Kevin Clancy and the Strath Haven program, which went 5-5 overall. But Fortune still finished strong, rushing for 800 yards in only four games.

He has carried that momentum into this season, and is on pace to rush for well more than 1,000 yards - and possibly carry the Panthers back into the PIAA District 1 Class AAA playoffs.

Now opposing teams find that it's Fortune delivering the blows. He's coming off a career-best 226-yard rushing performance in a 24-7 victory over Haverford High last week. Over the summer, Fortune added 10 pounds of muscle and got his bench press up to 295 pounds.

Against Radnor, Fortune ran for 168 yards on just 15 carries, scoring twice.

"You can't let Fortune in open space or he'll kill you," Radnor coach Tom Ryan said. "He's the best back we've faced so far this season. He could be the best back a lot of teams will face this season. He's a combination of power and speed, and he runs real hard downhill."

Haverford High coach Joe Gallagher concurred. Fortune averaged 11.3 yards a carry last week against the Fords, who game-planned to stop him.

"Fortune can go from Point A to Point B without losing any ground, when he makes his cuts, he's still moving forward," Gallagher said. "He has extremely fast feet and breakaway speed. When you have a great fullback like Strath Haven does in Fortune, it makes them really tough to stop. He can go right, he can go left. Fortune's reached another level. You hit him two, three, four times, and he's still moving. I love his tenacity." *

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