“What happens when everything that you care about, everything that you want to do is possibly up in smokes?”
The question posed by Hickman head coach Cedric Alvis became reality for senior running back Felix Pippenger, when he suffered a torn meniscus that looked like it would sideline him for the year.
Injuries have slowed but not completely stopped him in the past. A broken elbow as a freshman, a concussion as a sophomore and a torn labrum as a junior set him back, and each time, he returned.
But this time it was different. This was supposed to be the best year. This was supposed to be the year he got recruited to play football at the next level. He wasn’t supposed to suffer an injury June 8 at Central Missouri’s football camp.
Of all the times he could’ve gotten injured, it had to be this year, his most important year as an athlete.
“It sucked, especially because he’s a senior and you know the work he’s put in in the offseason,” defensive line coach Marvin Williams said. “You don’t want a senior, (especially) a good kid, to go down.”
Pippenger knows hard work, but coming back from this has made him work harder than ever and, in the process, made him a better person.
The class-clown, joking character that Pippenger was known for disappeared in the blink of an eye. The fun times had ended for the time being. For those times to come back, he needed to make some changes.
The first thing that changed was his approach to rehabilitation. According to his mother, Camille Pippenger, he didn’t really listen to doctor’s orders with his past injuries. She charged that to him being a teenage boy who thought he knew everything.
This time, Pippenger did everything that the doctors told him to do.
Physical therapy? Check. Approved exercises? Absolutely. Avoiding the use of his legs? No problem.
He had to stay in shape somehow, so he shifted his focus in lifting from his lower body to his upper body. Almost immediately, his work paid dividends: He boosted his bench press personal best to 305 pounds.
But he wasn’t satisfied with those results. He wanted to bench 315 pounds before his return to the field. His inability to be satisfied stemmed from his desire to change his mindset.
Pippenger also knew he needed to go about accomplishing his goal in a way that wouldn’t jeopardize his future. Williams credited the Hickman training staff for keeping him in check and making sure he didn’t overdo his rehab exercises.
Williams worried that Pippenger would come back too early, re-injure himself and have to start over again, which would cost him even more time.
He said that the injury taught him to be patient. He didn’t want to say that everything happens for a reason, but it feels like it helped him.
The rewards he earned for showing patience during this time would show up quicker than expected.
Pippenger wasn’t supposed to put weight on his right knee for six weeks. He started putting weight on it in five. He wasn’t supposed to leg press for 10 weeks. He started doing that in eight. He wasn’t supposed to be back until Week 6 against Battle. He came back against rival Jefferson City in Week 3.
He played a huge role in Hickman’s 40-6 rout of Smith-Cotton in Week 4, rushing for 122 yards. He will see more action against crosstown rival Rock Bridge on Friday, and beyond.
The class-clown, joking character that Pippenger is known for is back.
Pippenger has known sports all his life. For as long as he could remember, he’s been involved in physical activities.
Sports runs in the family. His mother competed in gymnastics, softball and volleyball. His father was a dirt bike rider. His oldest brother played soccer and the second oldest brother started football at nine and played until his junior year of high school.
For Felix, it started with gymnastics at the ripe age of three years old. Shortly after, he followed his father’s path in dirt bike riding, joined by his older brothers.
Pippenger played all the sports he could, but ultimately fell in love with football. Being at practice with one of his older brothers and participating in some of the drills set up his current path.
He suited up for the first time at seven years old. His mother said he looked like a bobblehead running on the field. Felix had a large head, so he and his mother had to go to a sports store in Las Vegas to find a helmet that fit.
He hasn’t stopped playing since. For the past 11 years, Felix has played football, from Pop Warner leagues in Arizona to high school games at Hickman. It’s what has kept him going through the good times and the bad times.
“Felix has never given up when it’s come to football. He never gives up,” his mom said.
Pippenger’s presence means Hickman has one of its leaders back. As much as he cheered for the team on the sidelines during practices and games, he’ll be able to be a more active participant from the field.
“When you see that Felix is smiling and talking trash, then I know as a coach that we’re going to have a good day,” Alvis said. “When Felix tightens up, everyone else tightens up too.”
The trash talk is just one of the things Pippenger does to get his team amped up for work. His mother said he inherited it from his older brothers, who are always competing with and trying to one-up each other.
However, there are moments where his words can go too far.
“He reminds me of myself when I was younger. I get a lot of emails from teachers about how he’s kind of a jerk in class sometimes,” Alvis said. “He has a good heart and he’s not trying to do anything to be malicious or anything like that.”
Although he loves to get a reaction from those around him, he’s still working on knowing when to joke around and when to get serious.
Alvis can suggest things to running backs Edward Nelson Jr. and Keith Kelly, but they won’t pay attention. Pippenger can suggest those exact same things and the duo listens almost instantly.
That’s a role he’s more than willing to accept. Pippenger called himself a natural leader, so taking the mentorship role is second nature to him. It’s weight he can carry and it’s pressure he can have on his shoulders because it’s something he’s done his entire football career.
What’s next for him as the year progresses? A 1,000-yard season, he hopes.
It’s something he didn’t get to do last year. He first settled for 600 yards but decided that was too “generic” and wanted to challenge himself.
He knows he’s worked hard. Now he’s out to show the world just how hard he worked.