MUKILTEO — Ben Barton spent most of last season on crutches, watching from the sidelines after a double fracture of his right leg wiped away a junior campaign that began in promising fashion.
But after channeling his initial frustration and discouragement into added motivation, the two-way Kamiak football standout returned to the field last week and compiled a massive performance in his first game back from last year’s season-ending injury.
Barton, a senior running back and linebacker, rushed for a career-high 157 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in the Knights’ 14-6 season-opening win over Bishop Blanchet.
“I just really wanted to be back on the field,” Barton said. “Being on the sideline, it was just hard watching (last) season go by. … Having watched all those games, I just had a chip on my shoulder being built up, just watching it for so long.
“I (have) a bigger drive than I’ve ever had,” he added. “This year, I’m doubling up, trying to make up for last season as well.”
Last season began with Barton posting 146 yards rushing and four sacks in a spectacular performance that helped Kamiak to a shutout victory over Blanchet. But two weeks later, an opposing offensive lineman fell on Barton’s right leg, breaking it in two places and ending his season.
“I felt like all my offseason work to prepare for the season was just done for nothing, in a sense,” Barton said. “But then I realized that attitude was not going to get me anywhere, and if I was going to have a successful senior year, I (had) to get back on the path and continue working hard.”
Physically, the biggest challenge for Barton was regaining his leg strength.
“When I first got my cast off, I didn’t even have a calf,” Barton said. “My leg was so small, just from having no movement for all that time. So I had to work hard to regain the strength to equalize (my legs).”
For Barton, that meant lots of physical therapy and weight training. He also ran hills and did other workouts with a Kamiak trainer.
In addition, Barton woke up at 6:30 a.m. every Sunday and drove about 30 miles south to Alki Beach, where he did running-back drills in the sand with Kamiak staff member and former Arizona State University basketball player Tim Pierce.
“Once you go from sand to field, it feels like slow motion, just because there’s so much resistance,” Barton said. “So I think that was a big help for me to get my speed up and (improve my) agility.”
The hard work paid dividends in last week’s season opener, which Barton highlighted with a late 50-yard touchdown run, his second score of the game. With less than two minutes remaining and Kamiak nursing a one-point lead, Barton broke an ankle tackle and spun out of another tackle before sprinting into the end zone and celebrating with his teammates.
“I couldn’t really contain my excitement,” Barton said. “I hadn’t been able to score a touchdown in a year, so it felt good to cross the goal line again. There’s no better feeling than that.
“I was more driven than ever to have a good game in my first game back,” he added. “So it felt really good to score those touchdowns after waiting so long for that game. However, it’s just one week and it’s a long season, so I need to stay healthy and on top of my game.”
After missing most of last season, Barton is cherishing his senior year.
“It’s just been a blast,” Barton said. “It’s just been so much fun. With the season-ending injury, I just take nothing for granted this year. Two-a-days, conditioning — I appreciate (everything) more.”
Kamiak coach Dan Mack said he is thrilled to have Barton back on the field, praising him for his talent, passion and leadership.
“He runs with real good balance and vision, and he’s a kid that will get the yards after contact,” Mack said. “He’s a hard person to tackle. He runs with purpose and he understands his role as a leader on this team and what that means to the rest of the kids.
“He’s an inspiring young man,” Mack added. “And like we say in our program, ‘inspired people inspire people.’ … He’s an example just to so many other kids.”