Trigg County’s Elijah Gaines’ senior season was over before it really even started on the soccer field as a knee injury derailed his final season as a Wildcat.
But Gaines wasn’t done yet, not even close.
March 12 will mark seven months since Gaines’ injury but March 4 was also a day will never forget as his made his college decision in front of friends and family at TCHS.
Gaines is headed to Asbury University where he’s ready to be starting a new career on the pitch.
“Just ecstatic, very excited for the next chapter,” he said. “As soon as I got injured, I thought maybe it’s over, maybe it’s done now but after a lot of thinking, I just realized I wasn’t done. I want another step so I took the time to really look out and gather all the information about different schools and talk to coaches.
“Asbury seemed like the right fit. They were really welcoming and after taking to the coach, I was intimidated at first. They have a really good program, really good philosophy there after talking to the coach, what he looks to do with his players. Just to get that offer, it’s just really exciting.”
Trigg County coach Josh Nichols said Gaines deserves everything he gets.
“It means a lot,” he said. “It’s vindication for the hard work he put in previous to his senior season. It’s a big relief that he’s getting this opportunity. That was one of his biggest fears after he got hurt that his career was over. I tried to assure him the things he’s done in the classroom, the things he did on the ACT are going to assure that he gets a shot somewhere, that’s going to get his foot in the door. He laid the groundwork long before today and he deserves his shot.”
Gaines’ injury came in the first few minutes of the game in the season-opener against Fort Campbell.
He said the next few weeks were difficult.
“It was a roller coaster,” he said. “When it happened, I didn’t want to admit it to myself but I felt like yeah that’s bad. I just really wanted to ignore it and I can keep playing. I tried to take it and I knew it was negative but I wanted to turn it into a positive thing. Maybe it was something that needed to happen to see how serious something can be taken away from me. Maybe I wasn’t taking it as serious, I needed to put everything I had into it. I think it just shook me up at a little bit. Like coach said, at a young age I realized life isn’t fair and it could be a lesson for me … It really changed my life.”
When rehab started, Gaines realized how difficult the journey would be but he said there was no way he was giving up.
“I got tired a lot, there were a lot of days I was really tired going to the gym and starting to get back on the field,” he said. “You realize you lose a lot of endurance when you’re not working hard for awhile. I don’t think there was a time where I was like I’m not going to do this but it really made me think I want to do everything in my power and control the controllables and make sure this doesn’t happen again so it really pushed me to take better care of my body.”
Gaines played junior varsity his freshman season as he started to see his play increase his sophomore season for the Wildcats.
Nichols said Asbury is getting a great player that could be something special.
“They’re getting a guy who’s just scratching the surface of what he can be,” Nichols said. “He’s kind of like clay in their hands as far as what they want him to be. You’re getting speed, first and foremost. A great attitude, great teammate, absorbs everything like a sponge. He doesn’t make the same mistake twice, which is a huge deal for a coach. They’re getting a kid willing to do anything on the field and he’s a goal scorer, a proven goal scorer — 34 goals his junior year. I think he was set-up for a big senior season but they’re getting a guy who two years from now may be unrecognizable to what he comes in this summer because he’s played so little and his ceilings so high.”
For Nichols and his peers to talk about him in a positive ways means a lot to Gaines.
He said he hopes to continue to make those around him proud.
“It feels really good,” he said. “I don’t like to talk about myself a lot because I don’t want to feel like I’m bragging or anything. It feels good that I know the work I do and the stuff I do for others and what I try and be and try to be a positive person knowing what it means to other people and it makes me really want to keep doing it. Keep being that type of person.”
It’s not often an athlete misses their entire senior year and still gets a chance to play at the next level.
Nichols said that’s just a testament to Gaines’ abilities and his positive mindset.
“I think that’s a result of his personality,” Nichols said. “You meet Elijah and you want to help him, you want what’s best for him because he’s such a good kid. I tell kids all the time, probably even more important than your ability on the field are your grades and your test scores because that can get you in the door. If you put a college coach in a position where he’s not taking a chance on you, worst-case scenario he gets a good student, he gets a kid that’s going to do the right thing. Then it much easier to give you the opportunity.”
Gaines agreed and said now is the time to work, as he gets ready for the next level.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “I’m really thankful every day. He’s seen film, he’s never seen me play in person but just the opportunity that he’s given me, I feel like it’s a blessing. I feel I worked hard through the down part now I have an opportunity given to me … Just stay positive, stay humble and keep working hard.”