Walking gingerly off the field after watching last season’s loss in the state semifinals, Archbishop Wood junior lineman Charley Mininger faced an uncertain future.
He knew one thing for sure: He needed reconstructive surgery on his right knee.
Everything else was in doubt. Would he be able to play as a senior? If so, would he regain his top form? Would his team maintain its status as one of the state’s top programs?
One year later, Mininger is set to finish his career for Archbishop Wood in the PIAA Class 5A state final Friday night vs. Cheltenham at Hersheypark Stadium.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Mininger has made a remarkable recovery, earning first-team All-Catholic League honors as an offensive lineman, even though his coach says he was even better on the defensive side of the football.
Mininger has been a mainstay along both lines and in the locker room for a team that battled through some early adversity to reach its perennial perch as one of the state’s most accomplished programs.
And he has done it with a small corps of seniors who heard all the talk about Wood’s imminent slide from top-tier status and turned the negative chatter into a rallying cry.
“That’s the most satisfying thing,” Mininger said. “People were saying this senior class was going to [stink]. That drove me back. That drove me back more than anything.”
Mininger tried to play through a nagging knee injury for most of his junior season. He was in-and-out of the lineup, battling a torn meniscus. He fractured his fibula in a Week 7 game vs St. Joseph’s Prep, but continued to play through the pain.
Mainly because there wasn’t that much pain.
“I had nerve damage so I couldn’t feel that much,” Mininger said. “But it kept getting worse and worse.”
Mininger shut it down before the playoffs and watched from the sideline as Wood won Catholic League and District 12 Class 5A titles for the third year in a row, but bowed out of the playoffs in a loss to eventual state champion Penn Hills.
“He took the loss hard,” Wood coach Kyle Adkins said. “I remember him walking off the field, and he was saying, ‘I don’t want to have this feeling again next year.’
“I think that really drove him.”
Mininger had a hard road ahead of him. He underwent surgery on Dec. 9, 2018. He was on crutches for 10 weeks. He needed to work on his rehabilitation for eight months, going to physical therapy three times a week through August.
“It was rough,” Mininger said. "The doctor, he didn’t come out and say I might not be able to play as a senior. But he pointed at it. I think he knew, though. He knew I was going to play.”
As usual, Archbishop Wood has raised its game in the state tournament, rolling past District 3 champion Southern Lehigh in the quarterfinals and taking out District 7 champion Gateway in the semifinals.
In both victories, the Vikings relied heavily on their ground game and their defense, both of which feature the hard work of the senior two-way lineman who wasn’t even sure he would be able to suit up this season.
“He’s been a force,” Adkins said. “After being banged up, it’s just great to see him out there.”
Mininger said he was motivated by speculation outside the program that the Vikings’ senior class was a weak link in a chain of success stretching back nearly two decades.
“We heard it all the time," Mininger said. “We were like, ‘Nobody is going to work harder.’ ”
Mininger said he couldn’t imagine a better way to finish his career than in the state finals — 362 days after a major surgery.
“It means more than anything to be able to come back,” Mininger said. “I always hoped for it. I knew there was a chance it wouldn’t happen.
“This might be my last game. I have to give everything I have.”