Determined Roper returns from broken leg to lead Barrington into MSL title game
First there was a cast, then a boot with crutches, then just a boot, then physical therapy. And more physical therapy.
It took more than five months and plenty of grittiness and determination for Evan Roper to recover from the leg that he broke in a football game in Week 2 of his sophomore season.
Roper, a senior middle linebacker at Barrington, made the varsity as a sophomore. He was a backup that season and was called upon late in a game against Buffalo Grove.
"I was excited because the backups were going to get to play almost the entire fourth quarter," Roper said. "On the third or fourth play that I was in there, I went to go make a tackle and my legs swung around the running back and my left leg hit up hard against the thigh of one of my teammates.
"I ended up breaking my tibia. I knew something was wrong right away."
Five months later, Roper was feeling right again.
Also a wrestler, Roper joined the 2018-19 season late, in February, once he finally got cleared.
In his very first match, after only a few weeks of practice, Roper got a win. But not just any win. His first varsity match after a five-month layoff with a broken leg was a 6-2 win over Libertyville. In the sectionals.
Roper was in the 195-pound weight class.
His win helped Barrington qualify for team state.
"That was definitely kind of shocking that I was to do that on that kind of stage after just getting back into the swing of things," Roper said.
Roper may shock himself occasionally but not his coaches and teammates. They've come to expect impressive results from him.
As the Barrington football team (5-0) has steamed to a Week 6 date with Prospect for the Mid-Suburban League championship, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Roper continues to anchor the defense and is the team leader in pretty much every major statistical category. He has about 70 total tackles on the season.
His readiness for the season started long ago with rigorous preseason workouts that he designed himself and shared with his teammates during the COVID lockdowns.
"It was amazing what Evan was doing on his own," said Bill Helzer, Barrington's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. "He would post these workouts on Twitter of him doing crazy stuff in his backyard with sand bags and buckets and big pieces of wood and then he was sprinting up and down hills. As soon as I saw that, I was like, 'we need to post this for the rest of the guys to see so that they can do that themselves.' I think it was quite a motivation for them to see Evan doing all of that, and I think that really helped our team."
What also helped the Broncos were the team-only workouts that Roper and other seniors organized at local parks during the lockdowns.
"I think that's why we are where we are now, and why we won the MSL West," Roper said. "Back in the summer we didn't know if or when we would play, or what it would look like, but we had faith and we committed to put the work in. We used the extra time to our advantage. We had a bunch of Zoom meetings as a team to work on calls and fronts and situations, and then we also got together at parks and worked on drills and conditioning.
"Each position group did their own thing and I was working with the linebackers. It was about 10 of us getting together two to three times a week and we did a lot of the stuff we would do in a normal practice. I think I was able to coach up the younger kids because they knew I had a lot of experience."
Roper came back as a junior in the fall of 2019 fully healthy and ready to go. He earned a starting spot at linebacker. And when fellow starting linebacker Dayven Shinhoster, the anchor of the defense who is now at NIU, went down with a serious injury, Roper suddenly took on a more vocal role.
In wrestling that winter, Roper rode the confidence he got from football to a third-place finish at state in the 220-pound weight class.
"Evan is special physically, look at the sports he does, two very physical sports in football and wrestling," Barrington coach Joe Sanchez said. "To come back like he did to both of those sports and to play without fear has been impressive. And then with us, he's just evolved so much as a leader, too. He was forced into a bigger role for us last year and he really stepped up. He had a great year."
Roper, who will try to walk on at Purdue or play at Carnegie Mellon, wasn't fully satisfied by his triumphant return as a junior. He wanted more this year, even in this delayed and abbreviated season.
"We would have really liked the chance to see what would have happened in the playoffs this year. We have a really good team," Roper said. "But one thing that we knew we could do was beat Fremd, and we did that (35-21 in Week 4). We hadn't done that since I was on varsity. Two years of seeing them beat us. I just couldn't stand for us to lose to them again.
"That was such a big win for us. I told the guys that was our playoff game. That was a highlight for me. That was what we were working so hard for and it paid off."