Gary Isaacson started the 2008 football season with a pretty big chip on his shoulder. Unfortunately for the Rib Lake/Prentice standout, he didn't get to knock nearly enough of it off.
That's because he was injured in the first half of Rib Lake/Prentice's third game of the year, a 20-6 Marawood Conference setback against eventual Division 6 state runner-up Edgar in which he gained 117 yards rushing on 25 carries while manning his usual spot at outside linebacker.
Isaacson, just thinking he had jammed his thumb, then ripped through Altoona for 201 yards the next week—a 54-20 win over a nonconference D-4 postseason qualifier. The next day he finally went to a doctor, where it was determined that Isaacson had dislocated his left thumb so severely that he had torn the tendon on the inside of the all-important digit away from the bone.
He may have injured it before because a lot of scar tissue also had to be removed during a two-hour procedure to reattach the tendon. Two pins were inserted to stabilize the thumb, one of which is permanent.
"I taped it during practice (before the Altoona game), but it didn't really bother me carrying the ball and I didn't really fumble it, but it was tough catching passes," Isaacson said. "It was also harder to grab and tackle. The doctor said that if I would have waited until after the season that I probably wouldn't have had any movement left."
Still, Isaacson had surpassed 600 yards in those four outings as the Redmen went on to finish in a three-way tie at 5-3 in the rugged Marawood that also featured eventual D-6 state champion Stratford and fellow playoff foes McDonell Central (D-7) and Marathon (D-5).
But because of missing the second half of the regular season and the squad's D-5 postseason-opening loss to future state titlist Colby, Isaacson earned honorable mention all-league status.
That came a year after getting second-team laurels when he and his coaches felt the 5-foot-11-inch, 190-pounder deserved to make the first team with nearly 800 yards, which obviously helps get more attention in recruiting circles.
"He definitely came into this season wanting to prove something, and after being injured the chip only got bigger," football coach Jerry Shoup said. "No. 1, he's a great back and No. 2, he didn't get to show people everything he could do. So, that was difficult for him and he handled the situation pretty well considering the disappointment."
Isaacson has received a bunch of questionnaires but not nearly as many had he not been injured. However, St. Scholastica, an NCAA Division 3 program in Duluth, Minn., has shown considerable interest, and Isaacson will visit the school in the near future. However, more possibilities should present themselves once more coaches receive his game films.
"Gary is one of the top two running backs I've had in my 17 years here," Shoup said, "and he's probably the most gifted athlete I've had. He just glides and is so smooth. When he makes a cut, he's gone. It's amazing how quickly he gets up to full speed after making a cut. I've had a couple of (college) coaches say that they see the same thing we see. I've never had a kid who in practice will do something and the other kids will say, ‘Did you see that?' We run a lot of motion and power-I stuff, but when we spread it out Gary is one of the slot guys because he's an excellent receiver.
"Gary wants to play college ball in the worst way, but many of our guys don't get interest even though we've made the playoffs six years in a row, which is really a shame," Shoup said. "But UW-Oshkosh is looking at him, and hopefully other people will call me back after they see the tapes."
In the meantime, Isaacson was expected to receive medical clearance this week to play basketball for the Buccaneers, where he'll rejoin Don Anderson's 21st and final squad, where he averaged 9.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game a year ago.
"He usually plays a 3 or 4 spot for us, but he's athletic enough that he can bring the ball up the court or go into the post," Anderson said. "Gary can handle taller guys inside because of his jumping ability, and he can take them out to the perimeter. So, he gives us a good swing option, a guy who can shoot the 3 and go inside.
"Gary's a relatively quiet kid, but he's got a quick wit," Anderson said. "When he says something, the other kids pay attention. And he's done that a few times while he's been out."
Isaacson also bounces back and forth between track and baseball during the spring, but he hopes to make it on the gridiron at the next level.
"Being injured definitely hurt me as far as recruiting because I was on pace for more than 1,000 yards and first-team all-conference," Isaacson said. "I've improved my speed and quickness, but I need to get better and stronger so I'll be hitting the weights. St. Scholastica was more interested in me as a running back. They usually use only one back and their guy last year got pretty beat up, so they're looking at me to add depth and they said that the best guy will play."
Other top Rib Lake/Prentice recruits
Caleb Butera: The two-way lineman was a Wisconsin Football Coaches Association first-team All-State selection. He made the All-Region team and all-Marawood Conference squad both ways.
Don Anderson: The wide receiver and defensive back made the second-team all-league squad on offense.
Ethan Budimlija: The fullback and linebacker was a second-team all-Marawood selection on defense.
Aric Zondlo: The tight end and defensive end was an offensive second-team pick.