August 28, 2020
Jeremiah Trotter Jr. won’t have to look far. One inward rotation of his right arm and it’s there, a jagged, somewhat twisted reminder that runs over a foot long, from his elbow to the top of his triceps.
The scar is the remnants of a broken right arm, which splintered into six pieces when the St. Joseph Prep standout linebacker got caught in an awkward position during the fifth game of last season against Roman Catholic.
The 6-foot-1½, 220-pound senior won’t wear a sleeve over the scar. Trotter is playing with a special motivation this season, if there is a season, to remind himself of what he went through.
Trotter, along with Marvin Harrison Jr. and Kyle McCord, is part of the centerpiece in what was going to be one of the best high school football teams the Philadelphia area ever produced.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia nixed fall sports earlier this week, but because St. Joe’s Prep is not a part of the archdiocese, the Hawks and La Salle could play an independent schedule.
COVID-19 permitting, the Hawks are still hoping they can salvage a football season this fall—especially Trotter, the oldest son of former Eagles’ linebacker Jeremiah Trotter.
If Prep opts to play in the spring, as many football programs are planning to do, Trotter, Harrison Jr. and McCord will have already begun preparing for their upcoming college seasons instead—Trotter at Clemson, and Harrison and McCord at Ohio State—and may not want to risk injury with such a short window.
As a sophomore in 2018, Trotter Jr. played at about 70 percent, often braving pain in almost every game, battling a burst bursae sac in his knee, a stress fracture in his foot, a broken right thumb and a broken right pinky. He came back to lead Prep in the state title game, and was arguably the best player on the field.
With an NFL Films camera crew covering his every step, Trotter played the best game of his young life on the biggest stage, leading the Hawks with 12 tackles and two solo tackles in their 40-20 victory over Harrisburg in the PIAA 6A state championship to claim their fourth state title in six years
Through the first four games as a junior last season, he was arguably the best player in Pennsylvania—until the break.
He grew from a nightmare.
“I was definitely down and there was some ‘Why me,’ I’ll admit,” said Trotter, who’s emotionally mature for his age. “What really made me angry was that I felt I was improving every game last year. I just wanted to play a full season.
“I missed time as a sophomore and then I had that happen my junior year. But I learned a lot from it. I learned there is more than just talent to being a good football player. I valued watching more film. I got a chance to help my [younger] brother [Josiah].
“Missing all of that time gave me that much more of a hunger. Being away from the game made me appreciate the game even more. Whether it’s this fall, or in the spring, that first hit is going to be like finally getting a cup of water after being out in the desert for a year.”
This season, MaxPreps has St. Joseph’s Prep at No. 4 in the country, and Trotter as the No. 4-rated defensive player in the nation. USA Today has Trotter ranked as the No. 1 inside linebacker in the country.
“I want to see Jeremiah play this season, because of everything he’s been through,” Jeremiah Trotter Sr. said. “I mean, the kid can’t catch a break. It was a freak accident. He went into make a tackle and his arm got caught behind him.
“Jeremiah doesn’t show emotion, and listen, as a father, you hate to see your child in pain. If he doesn’t get up, you know it’s something serious—and he didn’t get up. It was an eerie feeling, because it took me back to when I lost my dad. You see this happen, and you don’t want to believe that it’s happening.
“I was in the ambulance with him. I was trying to be strong for him. But when everything was going on, at that time, I didn’t care about football. That was my son in pain. No one wants to experience that. Plus, I saw the hard work and commitment he put in—and it was showing.”
Every game Trotter Jr. had to watch was a dagger to his soul. The bonus was helping Josiah develop quickly. It enabled Jeremiah to ease being on the sideline. Josiah, who was 14, was suddenly thrust into a new role as Prep’s starting middle linebacker.
Jeremiah and Josiah played together once in grade school. Josiah, who’s already received college offers from Penn State and Temple, grew a few inches in the offseason, where he’s 6-foot-1 and he weighs a lean 215—sans the freshman baby fat.
“I wanted to help Josiah with anything I saw and reinforce what he needed to do,” Jeremiah said. “But I’m hoping we do play this season, because I haven’t played with my brother since grade school.
“That’s also a big motivation for me. It would be a great experience to play by his side. It would be a great way to go out.”
Last year was difficult on Josiah, too. He had plans on playing next to his brother, and that was ruined by the injury.
“Jeremiah and my dad taught me what to do last year and what to watch,” said Josiah, who’s still growing and may outgrow the position. “When it comes to football, I’ll always listen to Jeremiah. I really want to play this fall, because I want to get a chance to play with him again.
Jeremiah, who carries a 3.1 GPA at academically demanding Prep, which is like a 4.0 at a regular high school, is back. The arm is fully healed. He went from curling 2½-pound dumbbells during rehab to benching close to 300 pounds. He’s added 10 pounds of muscle.
“I’ve learned a lot, and grown up a lot, pushing through the injuries, and learning the game,” Trotter said. “What I learned here really prepared me for the road ahead.”
Trotter Sr. remembers seeing his son sitting up in his hospital bed last fall, asking himself the same questions, “Why me? Why does this keep happening to me?” Jeremiah Jr.’s eyes didn’t rise, tending to look down at his broken right arm, agitated about missing another football season.
“I kept telling Jeremiah that God doesn’t make mistakes,” Jeremiah Sr. recalled. “He had a really serious injury and has come back stronger. Other than the long scar in the back of his right arm, you would never know he broke his arm.
“I told him he’s not going to wear his sleeve on his right arm. He’s going to keep it open, because it won’t only remind other people what he’s been through, but remind him how God brought him through it.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has been writing for PhillyVoice since its inception in 2015 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here: @JSantoliquito.