Heart of defense stopped

“For the first time in his career, John Mackey couldn’t stop an opponent. The 5-foot-10 rover couldn’t prevent UConn from scoring 35 unanswered points during Saturday’s 44-10 loss and he won’t be able to for the remainder of the season. He tore his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments along with the meniscus in his right knee and has probably played his last down as a Zip.”

For the first time in his career, John Mackey couldn’t stop an opponent.

The 5-foot-10 rover couldn’t prevent UConn from scoring 35 unanswered points during Saturday’s 44-10 loss and he won’t be able to for the remainder of the season.

He tore his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments along with the meniscus in his right knee and has probably played his last down as a Zip.

Saying his injury is devastating understates the obvious.

But it’s not just the fact that he led the team in tackles last year and through the first four games this season, even though he only played one quarter of the KSU game.

His importance to the team extends well beyond that.

He’s in your face if you make a mistake and on your back if you make a big play. His teammates respect him. Opponents fear him.

Last year, Mackey played through an extremely painful shoulder injury where he broke the ball in the socket. Every time he moved his shoulder the bone shard ripped more ligaments in his shoulder.

He never missed a game. And his teammates love him for that. He’s Lawrence Taylor without the cocaine addiction and with a little more sanity on the gridiron.

Mackey said he actually planned on returning later this year when doctors thought he just tore his ACL and MCL. Once they found out his meniscus was torn, his season was over.

His response when found out he suffered what is known as the unhappy triad of knee injuries?

If you got to do it, Mackey said, do it big.

OK, he’s L.T. without the drug problems with the same amount of sanity on the field. A torn ACL and MCL? No problem, give him a brace.

That’s what the Zips can’t replace. They have backups who can play the same position, but no one can fill Mackey’s role on and off the field.

He’s incredibly selfless. The play on which he was injured two Kent offensive linemen were charging toward him with running back Eugene Jarvis right behind them. Instead of trying to elude the linemen and missing his chance at Jarvis, he decided to pileup on all three. When he got up from the pile, his leg was shaped like a sideways V with his knee slanted out.

And that’s why head coach J.D. Brookhart can’t say enough about him.

Brookhart went so far as to say Mackey’s not being able to play against UConn cost his team. Not that it isn’t a true statement, but it’s rare for a coach, especially Brookhart, to use one player’s injury as a crutch.

That’s how important Mackey is to the Zips.

Brookhart said they would try to get him a medical redshirt for this season, which means Mackey would be able to play next year.

Under NCAA bylaws, the injury must occur within the first 30 percent of the teams’ schedule games. Luckily, if you can call it that, the injury occurred within that time frame.

Since Mackey redshirted his freshman year, it probably won’t be granted. But there is a provision that says you can appeal to the NCAA.

Assistant athletic director of compliance Kevin Klotz said usually it’s a case-by-case decision.

Considering what Mackey has given to the Zips and the sport, it would be a terrible injustice if it isn’t granted.