2. THE ONE-ARMED QUARTERBACK
One hundred seventy-four days before he died, Wes led the Fennville Blackhawks to Decatur, a neighboring town where the field was packed hard from 55 consecutive years of football. The Decatur Raiders' game plan boiled down to one imperative: Stop Wes Leonard. They did, eventually. On the first play he took the snap and sprinted left for nearly 20 yards, somersaulting in the air as he was tackled, bouncing right back up. He ran well and threw even better, and on any given play it was almost impossible to stop both. Fennville scored twice in the first quarter for a 12--8 lead and lined up for a two-point conversion. The setting sun cast thin blades of shadow. Wes ran around right tackle, one defender to beat, but the guy got him around the ankles and then a 270-pound defensive tackle came from the backside and crushed Wes to the stony ground. When he got up his left arm was hanging limp.
On the sideline, Xavier saw tears in Wes's eyes. Wes asked for something to relieve the pain. Jocelyn went searching for ibuprofen and politely declined when Maria offered her Vicodin. She heard the coach tell Xavier to go in at quarterback, and then she saw Wes push Xavier back.
"You're my receiver," Wes said.
No one knew the extent of the injury because Wes waved the trainer away and refused to take off his shoulder pads. Gary Leonard, an assistant coach, knew his stubborn son well enough to know he might have to tackle Wes to keep him out of the game. The coaches found a compromise: Wes would stay out of the game on defense, where he usually played linebacker, and as quarterback he would try to stay in the pocket.
Jocelyn was crying. This is gonna be a freakin' disaster, she thought. Fennville's one-armed quarterback marched onto the field and fumbled his first snap. Decatur recovered.
Even then, Wes would not step aside for Xavier. Near the end of the second quarter, with Fennville trailing 24--18 and the sky that pale fire between day and night, Wes led his team to the line at the Decatur 43 in a four-receiver shotgun formation. Xavier stood in the slot to the right. The snap came in high, but Wes snared it with both hands, and the pain in his bad arm must been excruciating as he rolled right and looked downfield. He was 10 yards deep when he hurled the ball, and it whistled nearly 60 yards through the air, arcing down near the goal line. Two defenders strained for it, but Xavier had beaten them both. He squeezed the ball to his chest and fell to the ground in the end zone.
After every possession Gary asked Wes, "Think you'd better get out of there?"
Wes always said, "No way."
Fennville lost 32--26, partly because Wes couldn't play defense or run the ball, but he threw for two touchdowns with one good arm. When he took off his pads the end of his clavicle was sticking up under the skin of his left shoulder.