Injured Lenape football star not bemoaning his fate
The last play of Mike Doulong's career for the Lenape High School football team was spectacular. It also was typical.
The last play of Mike Doulong's career for the Lenape High School football team was spectacular.
It also was typical.
Doulong reached out to snatch an over-the-shoulder interception along the left sideline in the first half of Lenape's Nov. 18 game against Highland in the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals.
He kept his balance, reversed field, shook off a tackler, and raced 37 yards on the return, another big play in a season filled with them for the sensational senior defensive back.
"He's a playmaker," Lenape coach Tim McAneney said. "Some guys just have that knack. That's 'Doo-ey.'"
But there was something else that was special about Doulong's eighth interception of the season.
There was something else that was different about the end of the play that helped Lenape continue its march to the South Jersey Group 4 championship game Sunday against Timber Creek in a highly anticipated battle of unbeaten teams at Rowan University.
As Doulong hit the turf around the 43-yard line, he felt a Highland player step on his left foot.
He felt something snap.
And he felt his senior season - the dream season, the best season in the history of the program - come to an abrupt end.
"It's a bummer," Doulong said the other night, contemplating his spot on the sideline when his teammates take the field for the biggest football game of their lives.
That's about as hard as Doulong is on himself and his situation.
He's not the kind to bemoan his rotten luck, to wonder why fate took a fickle turn and left him on crutches with a screw in his foot to repair three broken bones when he should be wearing that red-and-white uniform one more time and trying to help Lenape capture the program's first sectional championship.
He could complain. This is a kid who has been a star on the football field for most of his life, who has worked tirelessly along with his teammates to turn Lenape from a mediocre program into a legitimate South Jersey power.
And now all that hard work is paying off and all those dreams are being realized and the Indians are getting ready to trot onto that field at Richard Wackar Stadium for the championship game - and Doulong is recovering from surgery Thursday, his bandaged foot likely to be elevated on the bench.
"I've played with Mike since we were 7 years old," Lenape senior defensive back Tim Montgomery said. "This is so tough, so hard to see. We all know how much this means to him."
Plus, that's Timber Creek across the field. That's arguably the most prolific passing team in South Jersey history.
Think about that: Doulong is a top defensive back. He's a natural ball hawk. He's the kind of competitor who would relish the chance to face the high-flying Chargers.
"Yeah, I waited my whole career for Coach to say, 'We're playing a team that always throws the ball,' " Doulong said. "Now it's here and I can't play. But I have confidence in my teammates.
"I look at it like this: They still have a game to play, so that means I still have a game to play."
Doulong was the top playmaker this season for the top defensive team in South Jersey. His eight interceptions were tied for tops in the area. He returned two of them for touchdowns.
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Doulong also returned two punts for touchdowns.
"That's four non-offensive touchdowns by himself this season," McAneney said. "Not many guys do that."
Doulong has been a three-year starter for the Indians. In those three seasons, Lenape is 28-4.
In the previous 10 seasons, the Indians were 33-67.
"People used to think of Lenape as an easy game on their schedule," Doulong said. "Now there's a whole different outlook."
Montgomery saw some time in the secondary as a sophomore, too. He said he relied heavily on his classmate and close friend.
"I would feel so safe knowing Mike was back there with me," Montgomery said. "He knew what I had to do better than I knew what I had to do. He's like a genius."
A top student who will be honored by the Brooks-Irvine Football Club as a scholar-athlete, Doulong might attend the University of Pennsylvania and play sprint (172-pound) football for the Quakers.
Doulong also is a top baseball player. He hopes his foot is healed in time for his final season for Lenape this spring.
But first, there's another football game, and it's only the most significant one in Lenape history.
Doulong won't take the field, but he'll be there - in body on the sideline, in spirit for the rest of the Indians.
"Mike is the kind of guy, you want to go out there and play for him," Montgomery said. "He can't be out there, so we're playing for him."