Kokomo High School’s football and boys basketball programs took a major hit Thursday. Wildkat senior Tayler Persons underwent an MRI on his injured left knee and it showed a torn ACL. He will need surgery.
Persons is a two-way standout in football and one of the state’s best players in basketball. He is a Northern Kentucky basketball recruit.
Persons suffered the injury on the gridiron against Fort Wayne Wayne last week.
“I’m just sick,” Kokomo football coach Brett Colby said. “When his dad came down to my room [Thursday] and told me, I had tears in my eyes. It’s just a sad feeling for Tayler and everyone feels that way. Football-wise, I pretty much knew last week he was probably done even if it was his MCL. But [football] is secondary compared to what he’s going to have to go through to get himself right and get himself ready to go to the next level [in basketball].”
Persons noted he also has a slight tear in his MCL. Still, he offered a positive attitude when discussing the injury and the road ahead.
“I feel like I can come back even stronger than I was before,” he said. “I know my family and friends are behind me. I’m going to work at this rehab as hard as I ever trained for basketball or anything. I’m going to work as hard as I can so I can come back and be ready to play as soon as possible.”
Persons’ football season is over, and his basketball season is in jeopardy.
“They say [recovery] depends on my body. It could be six to nine months,” he said. “But I’m just going to come back whenever I feel like my body is 100 percent. I don’t want to take any chances on re-injuring it or anything.
“I know six months away is the start of the [state basketball] tournament. I’m going to work as hard as I can, but it’s whatever God has in store for me.”
Kokomo basketball coach Brian McCauley knows Persons is tough to replace.
“My heart breaks for Tayler,” he said. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Tayler is injured right now and I hurt for him. The past three years he has been a tremendous athlete for Kokomo High School and from a basketball standpoint, he’s always been a great teammate and a tremendous player to coach.”
Persons led Kokomo’s basketball team to a 22-3 record and North Central Conference and sectional championships in the 2012-13 season. A terrific all-around player, the 6-foot-2 point guard averaged 17.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2.9 steals per game. He was named to the Indiana Junior All-Star team.
Persons has helped the Kats to a 65-11 combined record over the last three years and the 2011 Class 4A state runner-up finish. He has scored 913 career points.
Persons noted Northern Kentucky’s basketball coaches are “100 percent committed.”
“They know I’ll heal up fast and be ready to go. I’m still going to be a Norse next year,” he said.
Persons has no regrets about playing football this year. He has been a starting safety since his freshman year, ranking No. 3 on the team in tackles as a freshman and No. 1 ever since. He also has started on offense, at QB, since his sophomore year.
“I played football my whole life. I didn’t want to regret not playing it my senior year. I went out and played as hard as I can,” he said.
Persons plans to help his Kat teams in any way possible at practices and games.
“I’m going to try to help coach them. One day I want to be a coach so I can start now,” he said.
Persons received an outpouring of support Thursday at school as well as on Twitter and other social networking sites.
“It’s awesome to have all the people who care about me. I’m thankful for all the people who have reached out to me, telling me they’re praying for me and stuff. It helps me a lot, knowing people are on my side.”
McCauley plans to tackle the road ahead with a relentless drive.
“He is a kid who has never backed down from anything,” McCauley said. “He is going to rehab and get stronger and I think down the road, he’ll be ready for bigger and better things. But in the present moment, I feel really bad for him.”