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Cherokee quarterback Billy Osborn is embracing big changes

“When I see old videos of myself, watching film, it’s sometimes like, ‘Wait, is that really me?’” Osborn said.

Cherokee's Billy Osborn looks downfield against Winslow Township on Sept. 20.
Cherokee's Billy Osborn looks downfield against Winslow Township on Sept. 20.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

An X-ray of Billy Osborn’s right elbow looks like something out of a high school shop class.

A two-inch screw, visibly no different than something you might buy at Home Depot, acts as a stabilizer for this throwing arm.

Osborn said he doesn’t think about the screw, doesn’t feel it and doesn’t plan to ever have it taken out.

That, in itself, is another sign of how far Cherokee’s junior quarterback has come since missing his entire sophomore season recovering from a stress fracture in the growth plate of his right elbow.

Before this season, the last time Osborn had played on a high school football field, he was a 5-foot-9, 160-pound freshman. His throwing elbow was chronically sore, sapping whatever arm strength he could produce from his wiry frame.

This past weekend, Osborn — standing 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds — looked strong and felt strong, an imposing presence orchestrating a dramatic win over Rancocas Valley.

So much has changed in a year.

“When I see old videos of myself, watching film, it’s sometimes like, ‘Wait, is that really me?’” Osborn said. “Before this season, the last time I put pads on, I was a completely different person.”

Last year, Osborn watched from the sidelines as his Chiefs finished with a 1-8 record.

This year, fully healed, he’s helping lead a turnaround for a team with a 3-1 record and once again looking like it’s among the best in South Jersey.

The journey to this point, according to Osborn, is what’s making all of it so sweet.

“Through everything that happened, I just tried to stay focused. When things got bad, I just tried to stay focused on getting better — and I do think the injury made me better,” he said.

Osborn said the hardest part about the injury wasn’t the pain he endured or the uncertainty of it all or even the grueling rehab.

It was that he couldn’t play the game he loved.

Football is in Osborn’s blood, and he has played it just about since he could walk.

His father, Bill Sr., is one of the most decorated athletes in South Jersey history.

He was multisport standout at Wildwood before earning varsity letters in football, basketball, and baseball at Pitt — the first athlete to do so at the school since Mike Ditka — and moving on to a brief career in the NFL with the Eagles.

Bill Sr. helped instill his love of football in his son. And some of Billy’s earliest childhood memories of him and his father revolve around the game.

“My dad has this collection of 32 [miniature] helmets of every NFL football team,” Osborn said. “And I just remember sitting with him, being this little kid, and trying to name all of the helmets.”

Since then, Osborn said he had been throwing almost every day for as long as he can remember, which is actually part of what led to the injury. Overuse — combined with that late and dramatic growth spurt — brought the injury on.

At first, doctor’s told Osborn just to rest the elbow, which he did for a six-week span in the spring of 2018. When he came back, and the elbow wasn’t fully healed, it led to a stress fracture that required surgery.

At the time it was devastating.

But Osborn’s dedication to the sport only grew. The surgery in July 2018 was a success, and Osborn said he consumed himself with the game from that point: He studied more film, spent more time with his teammates, practically lived in the Cherokee locker room even when times were at their hardest for him and the team.

“We talk a lot about character and Billy is one of those guys,” said Cherokee coach Brian Glatz. “For him to go ahead and make that full recovery and work as hard as he has to get himself to where he is today, it’s a tribute to his character — and it’s nice because we have a lot of good character guys on our team.”

Osborn said he had a lot of help in his corner. He credits his doctors. He credits his strong relationship with his parents, particularly his father, who helped give him perspective and helped him stay positive.

And he leaned on his coaches and on his teammates — some of whom, unfortunately, were going through similar struggles.

One of Osborn’s best friends on the team is receiver Caden Burti, who suffered a broken leg and also missed all of last season.

Osborn said the two “were in it together” and grew closer throughout last year. Slowly and steadily, they built themselves up.

“Every step, I was trying to do anything I could,” Osborn said. “Right when the doctors told me I could run again, start working on my lower half, I was running with the team every single time, I was watching film on my own time with the coaches.”

It’s a metaphor for his team’s success: It’s been a slow progression. It’s been one step at a time. It’s been a struggle.

But the team looks strong and it’s easy to see that its ceiling hasn’t been met.

The same can clearly be said for Cherokee’s starting quarterback.

“Sometimes I look at the scar and it’s a reminder,” Osborn said. “But mostly I’m just looking forward. At this point, I’m not thinking about my injury. I’m thinking about getting better.”