WEST GOSHEN - It was not how Syncere Cooper would've drawn it up, but there, surrounded by his teammates and coaches, the West Chester East senior was back on the mat.
The host Vikings had just won the championship in the Colley Classic duals tournament, Saturday, and Cooper made his first appearance with the team.
Once again, it wasn't how he imagined it, but Cooper was there, seated cozily in a wheelchair, with his right leg propped up. And his team felt his presence.
"Syncere is one of the most respected kids in the school," East coach John Gallo said. "Having him here provided leadership and that emotional push to get us over the top."
On the first night of November, when East hosted West Chester Henderson in the first round of the district football playoffs, Cooper's planted right leg was landed on by another player. His tibia and fibula bones were broken near the ankle, which also dislocated.
An immediate trip to the hospital led to surgery in the morning, and while his football season was over, recovery seemed promising.
"I was less worried about my injury and more about not being able to play football anymore," Cooper said. "I knew we had (West Chester) Rustin the next week and I really just wanted to play with my boys."
Three weeks later, a checkup revealed an infection at the surgery spot, and eventually doctors discovered a condition called compartment syndrome, that lessoned the blood flow and created nerve and tissue damage.
Cooper was sent to Philadelphia for another surgery to remove the metal plates and screws that were originally put in to allow for proper healing. A lengthy recovery just got a little lengthier.
"That whole three days was like, geez," Cooper said.
Cooper's demeanor comes off as calm and collected, and that has kept his spirits positive. Another surgery is scheduled to put the plates and screws back in, but for now, Cooper's leg remains propped up and stationary.
In three years as a varsity wrestler, Cooper went 38-37, and figured to be a key part of a young team.
"It's hard to watch because it's my senior year," Cooper said. "I would've been captain and my team would've looked up to me, so that's upsetting."
Now, his role is a little different, but just being there has an impact, especially on his little brother, Yadyn Cooper, who went 2-1, Saturday.
"It drives me harder and pushes me," Yadyn said. "He wants to be out there and to see him fall in football makes me want to work harder for him."
The Vikings (5-1) knocked off Pottsgrove, 48-30, and Bensalem, 54-30, on their way to the finals, where they met Ridley for the second straight year.
After trailing 19-0 after four bouts, East won eight of the final 10, to avenge a two-point loss from the year before.
Sam Parnis (113 pounds), Jeff Cooper (120), Max Parnis (126) and Jake Fenimore (170) went 3-0 on the day to lead East.
"Our lineup was really in disarray to start the season," Gallo said. "But we have a lot of young guys who are stepping up and winning crucial matches for us."
The title was nice for the Vikings, but the return of one of their leaders was the story of the day. Syncere won't wrestle this year and doesn't know when he will walk again. There are months of rehabilitation ahead of Syncere, but Yadyn has all the confidence in the world in his big brother.
"There's no doubt," Yadyn said. "He knows where his mindset is and he has a lot of people in his corner. He knows where he wants to be."
A gofundme page was created to help with the costs of the medical expenses for the Cooper family, and with a $15,000 goal, as of Saturday $20,218 had been raised.
"It meant a lot," Syncere said. "The community coming together the way they did, I wasn't expecting all that. These kinds of things aren't cheap, so all that support really helps going forward because this isn't going to be easy."
Doctors tell Syncere that youth is on his side, and though he hasn't had his 18th birthday yet, Syncere is determined to finish out his senior year on his terms, and go to college to study engineering.
"Getting back as soon as I can, back on my feet, that's my goal," Syncere said. "I gotta make sure I graduate with my class and move forward in life, past this."