It’s a September evening at Dobyns-Bennett High School and Kody Paul’s season — his career, really — is about to change.
The Sevier County junior and his teammates are in the midst of a comeback win against the rival Indians. Paul jumps up after a play and comes down awkwardly on a knee doctors will tell him was already weak to begin with. It buckles and gives out.
Days later, Paul will learn the laundry list of ligaments he damaged in that moment. For now, he just can’t move his knee, another player lost for the season.
What teammate Dorian Banks did next made sure Paul wasn’t forgotten.
“Dorian ran up to me on the field,” Paul said. “He held my hand and cried with me. It was definitely a wake-up. I didn’t think we were that close or he cared for me that much. But he’s a really good guy.
“He talked to me after, ‘I want to wear your number to represent you. I want to play for both of us.’ ”
It was a gesture that’s boosted Paul. Recovery hasn’t been easy. He said at first he didn’t even want to get out of bed. But Banks kept checking on him, eventually donning the No. 34 — still with Paul’s name on the back — during games. He’ll have it on again tonight when Sevier County travels to Seymour for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
“You just feel like you lost your best friend,” Banks said. “Now that he’s not going to be able to play right now, it just kills me inside because I know that’s what he wants to do. ... If he can’t play, I’m going to find a way to make sure he’s out there with me playing.”
It may not be easy for Paul to see his number moving up and down the field on Friday nights while he’s stuck on crutches, but he said it’s nice to know his teammates are still thinking of him. Bears coach Steve Brewer said Banks’ gesture is an example of selflessness.
“That’s pretty noble,” Brewer said. “I think that we could certainly use a lot more of it being about your teammates than it being about yourself. I appreciate what’s taking place there. I appreciate the thought behind it. It makes you proud that kids think that way.”
Banks was just returning a favor from the spring. When Paul caught word of the sophomore transferring into Sevier County then, he got Banks’ number and started talking to him. Paul didn’t want the new kid to feel isolated.
Banks was thankful to have someone to hang out with. Paul introduced him to other kids, helping him settle in quickly. The two friends hung out on weekends and watched film together. They were ready for football season.
Three games in, it was over for Paul.
“I just started bawling,” Banks said. “It was like seeing my brother go down. Whenever he went down, it felt like I went down at the same time.”
Banks said Paul’s jersey was a little big when he first put it on, but he’s used to it now. It reminds him of his teammate on the sideline, wearing the same number in the opposite color.
Paul’s focus now is his rehab, which could take as long as six months. He said he won’t take being out on the field for granted when he returns next year. Thanks to Banks, his number still plays a role in Sevier County’s success this season.
“I wasn’t just another, ‘Oh, he’s hurt. He’s out for the season. He’ll be back next year,’ ” Paul said. “He actually cared. He helped me through it.”