But that all changed in an instant Oct. 5.
“We were playing Harrison in our fourth game of the season,” Pein explained. “I was playing outside linebacker and I came down the line of scrimmage. I saw the quarterback with the ball. I hit him and went to wrap him up. As I fell down, we fell and I tried to stop the fall with my left arm.”
Pein had his left arm fully extended as he fell.
“I knew something was wrong, because it remained in the locked position,” Pein said. “I couldn’t bring it up towards me. I couldn’t move it. It didn’t seem right. The pain shot up my arm. It was stiff, locked and had no motion.”
By the start of the second quarter, Secaucus trainer Tom Butler advised Pein’s family that he should go to the hospital.
“They iced me up right away, but I knew it was something worse,” Pein said.
Pein was brought to the emergency room of Hackensack University Medical Center. After examination and x-rays, it was first ruled as a simple contusion.
“I was hoping for the best,” Pein said.
“At first, they didn’t know how bad it was,” Secaucus head football coach and athletic director Charlie Voorhees said. “I saw the elbow and it looked bad. I knew Hunter was in a lot of pain.”
But Pein went to an orthopedic doctor in West Orange, Dr. Richard Bojardo, who has privileges at both Hoboken University Medical Center and Bayonne Medical Center.
“He felt my elbow right away and knew what it was,” Pein said. “He said that I ruptured the ligament in my elbow and I needed Tommy John surgery.”
That surgery isn’t regularly associated with football players, only baseball pitchers.
“It was a minor setback for a major comeback,” Pein said.
But Pein was forced to miss the rest of the football season, not to mention the wrestling season and possibly the outdoor track and field campaign, where he threw the javelin, the shot put and the discus. He’s keeping a stiff upper lip, but it was more than just a minor setback.
“I knew the role I had on the team,” Pein said. “I knew the morale of the team was down. The faster I got to therapy, the quicker I’d be back.”
Voorhees knew it was a major blow to his team.
“We’re a [NJSIAA] Group I school,” Voorhees said about Secaucus’ overall enrollment figures. “When we lose a player like Hunter, it’s like losing four players. He was our long snapper, our short snapper, our center and our outside linebacker. Plus, since we’ve known Hunter, he’s been a leader. He’s the one who chooses up teams in pick-up games. He stops all the garbage from going on in the locker room. Everyone trusts him and respects him. He had a heavy influence on the team.”
On Oct. 9, Hunter Pein underwent Tommy John surgery to repair the ruptured ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow.
Pein came through the surgery with flying colors.
Exactly one month after the surgery date, Pein was in the offices of SportsCare in Secaucus to set up a physical therapy regimen.
Pein was also going to East Coast Fitness in Carlstadt to work on his legs and arms.
“There’s a family atmosphere there,” Pein said. “I was going there before the injury.”
Pein knew that the rehabilitation from such a radical surgery is long and grueling. Dr. Bojardo had to take a ligament from another part of Pein’s body and place it in where the torn ligament was in his elbow.
Through it all, Pein managed to keep a journal of his daily feelings.
“Monday, Oct. 16 and I just had my first full night of sleep,” Pein reads from his journal. “This is something to look back on. I know this is going to help me in life. You can’t go through life without a setback. You have to experience a few setbacks to become a man.”
Pein just turned 17 years old. He has a lifetime of setbacks awaiting, but he handled this one with grace and dignity.
Pein went to physical therapy three days a week. A 3.4 grade point average student, Pein also managed to keep up with his school work with the help of a home tutor. Pein is also the vice president of his junior class at Secaucus.
“That’s a key for me,” Pein said. “I can only be so good in sports. I have to find another option.”
Pein is hopeful to get accepted into the United States Coast Guard Academy.
“I have a lot of schools in mind, but that’s my first choice,” Pein said.
Pein is now working out on his own as well.
“I’m eager to get back,” Pein said. “I ran a mile and a half last week. It felt good. I’ve worked out every day since I got hurt. I didn’t want to become a couch potato.”
Voorhees is amazed with Pein’s determination.
“We do stress toughness here,” said Voorhees, who has had to endure nine different injuries to his football team, including total knee reconstruction for top running back Raeshawn Andrews as well as ACL knee surgery for Cesar Quinones, who will also miss the entire wrestling season after winning 20 matches last year.
“It’s been a rough one,” Voorhees said of his rash of injuries. “I’ve never experienced anything like this. But it’s something we understand. In the case of Hunter, he’s going to answer the bell. We know he’s going to recover. He’s going to have the chance to write his own story. When the times get tough, we are always there for each other.”
Pein doesn’t know why he has had to endure the injury and rehabilitation.
“I don’t know why God chose me,” Pein said. “But I know I’m going to come out of this a better man. I know that I’ll be good again.”
Pein may miss out on some football, some wrestling and some track and field. But he still has his entire senior year to make a mark – and then he has the rest of his already fulfilling life ahead of him. He’s an inspiration to us all.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.