Home Team Friday: Off the Gridiron (10/15/21)

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At Heritage Hills, football is a brotherhood. But this season, the Patriots learned just how strong that brotherhood is.

On Sept. 17, tragedy struck one of their own. Junior receiver Blake Duttlinger was harvesting corn on his farm when he tripped on a corn stalk and fell into a corn head.

It took 45 minutes until his family was able to remove his leg. He was airlifted to a hospital where he underwent several procedures.

“Initially I didn’t know if whether or not I was going to lose my leg, so that was the most serious part; whether I was going to lose my leg or not,” Duttlinger said.

More than a week later, his fears were realized. Doctors told Duttlinger they’d need to perform a below-the-knee amputation.

It was earth-shattering news that turned Duttlinger, and his team’s world upside down.

“It’s taken some getting used to,” Duttlinger said. “But I know things are going to get back close to normal at some point in my life.”

“It was pretty difficult,” said senior Ross Tempel, who is Duttlinger’s cousin. You obviously hope the best for him, and I know that a combine, it can be pretty fatal very, very easily.”

But in the middle of Duttlinger’s toughest battle, his teammates stepped up to help fight.

They offered their prayers, they donated meals, raised money with t-shirts and wristbands and donned decals with Blake’s number on their helmets.

“When an event like this happens, you really see the character of them start to show,” said Heritage Hills assistant Kevin Tempel. “Multiple guys have reached out to me, reached out to Blake himself. ‘Hey, I’m here to talk to you. If you need anything let us know.’ We’ve got families that are cooking meals and taking meals over. It’s been a whole community effort.”

“I wasn’t sure it was possible to appreciate what you have with your teammates, especially on a football team, any more than I already did, but it happened. And I appreciate them even more,” Duttlinger said.

Duttlinger’s teammates got a big surprise last week. Just three weeks after his accident, Duttlinger visited the Patriots in the locker room before their game against Southridge.

“I was sitting down locked in,” said senior Clay Radigan. “I was staring at the floor. And he rolled into the locker room, and I looked up, and I just let loose. I was crying. That’s my brother right there. I was crying like a baby.”

“You always want to play your heart out for the team and the community, but after they supported Blake, it just means a little extra,” said Ross Tempel.

Duttlinger’s battle isn’t over. In fact, it’s just beginning. But he’s ready to attack it with the strength of a Patriot.

“I’ve had to work for everything that I’ve gotten on the football field and on the wrestling mat,” Duttlinger said. “I’ve had to work for everything that I’ve gotten. This is just one of those things that you have to work for what you want. It’s not going to be handed to you.”

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