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Mitch Kimble: A career ruined by injuries

Mitch+Kimble+stands+on+the+sideline+in+his+first+game+out+of+the+lineup.+Kimble+had+nearly+his+entire+career+ruined+because+of+injuries.+He+remained+a+leader+of+the+team+and+Scotty+Gilkey+Jr.+referred+to+him+as+a+warrior.
Mitch Kimble stands on the sideline in his first game out of the lineup. Kimble had nearly his entire career ruined because of injuries. He remained a leader of the team and Scotty Gilkey Jr. referred to him as a warrior.

Mitch Kimble stands on the sideline in his first game out of the lineup. Kimble had nearly his entire career ruined because of injuries. He remained a leader of the team and Scotty Gilkey Jr. referred to him as a warrior.

Bryan Bund | The Daily Eastern News

Bryan Bund | The Daily Eastern News

Mitch Kimble stands on the sideline in his first game out of the lineup. Kimble had nearly his entire career ruined because of injuries. He remained a leader of the team and Scotty Gilkey Jr. referred to him as a warrior.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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Mitch Kimble left the emergency room past 4 a.m. the morning after the Panthers’ loss to Illinois State Saturday, Sept. 16 with more questions than answers.

The Eastern football team’s starting senior quarterback woke up at 4 a.m. short of breath, thinking he had a punctured lung. He was hit repeatedly throughout the game, but he was driven into the ground on one hit late in the game and that is what caused his symptoms.

His neck jerked backward when he was driven into the ground.

The only answer he got Sunday morning was his lung was not punctured after his X-Rays came back negative.

His pain was in his neck and caused more pain down his right side into his shoulder blade.

“(The doctors) said it’s probably just a bruise, but I could tell immediately that something else was going on,” Kimble said. “I was trying to be positive and think it was just a bruise and I would take a little bit of time and come back as soon as possible. I just tried to stay positive.”

Four weeks later, Kimble’s questions turned into answers, except those answers did not provide relief.

The answer was four words he had heard nearly one year ago. “Your season is over.” But this time, that meant, “Your college football career is over.”

In 2016, Kimble suffered a concussion, against none other than the Redbirds of Illinois State, in the third game of the season, then it was a “bad” high ankle sprain against Murray State in the eighth game of the season. The following week he tried to play against Jacksonville State, but the pain was too much and he heard once again “your season is over.”

He could hardly walk and when it got rolled on in the Jacksonville State game, that was the end of the road.

Injuries simply ruined Mitch Kimble’s college football career. Kimble suffered a herniated disc in his neck, which pressed against a nerve in 2017. He knew the severity of the injury and realized he would be out for a week, but did not think that it would be a season-ending injury.

“I honestly never thought it would be like this,” Kimble said. “My entire football career, especially high school, I was never hurt. I had one or two concussions and I missed a game or so, but I never had an injury where I missed this significant amount of time. It’s something I never really expected to happen. It’s something I never had to deal with so it was hard.”

And that was the toughest part for Kimble: Working so hard to get back after missing four games in 2016 and planning on a full-blown, 11-game, FCS Playoff-bound starting quarterback.

The injuries he suffered in 2016 took a toll on him when he went into the season. Before Eastern opened the season, Kimble said he wanted to put those injuries behind him, but that is easier said than done.

“It was always something in the back of my mind for me personally,” Kimble said. “First season starting I missed four games because of injury, so I was hoping this year I’d put on some weight and I felt a lot stronger and felt like I was in the best shape I had been in since I started playing football.”

It was something he did not want to worry about, but it was always there.

Anyone around the Eastern football team felt for the 2017 senior captain. His coaches and teammates watched two promising seasons fall apart in the blink of an eye.

And for coach Kim Dameron, he lost the guy who was supposed to run the offense two years in a row.

Kimble’s job was to play quarterback for the Eastern football team, but it went beyond that for Dameron having to figure out what was next in having a new starting quarterback.

“It was really tough as a coach because you see these players as your kids,” he said. “What he had to go through and what his family had to go through.”

Kimble was voted a team captain by the rest of the Panthers and for him to not see that come to full fruition was painful for a lot of people, Dameron said.

“If you’re on a ship and you want the captain of that ship to be a steady guy, you don’t want him to be up one day and down the next, making poor decisions and things like that,” Dameron said. “That’s what Mitch brought to the table. He was levelheaded, he didn’t get overly excited and he didn’t get too down.”

An example of the steadiness Dameron is talking about was in the first game of the season against Indiana State. The Panthers buckled down, with Kimble leading the charge, and drove 69 yards in 1:49 minutes for a last-second win.

That was the last time the Panthers and Eastern fans alike, were able to see Kimble shine. Eastern was simply outmatched by Northern Illinois and Illinois State the final two weeks.

But that game, that drive, will stick with Kimble.

“That game, especially the end of the game is probably one of my top memoires,” Kimble said. “I never really have been in a situation like that.”

In 2016, even playing in just seven games, and that includes games where he was pulled in the middle, he had better stats than some of the quarterbacks in the OVC who played the whole season.

He had 1,414 passing yards, which was more than Austin Peay’s Timarious Mitchell, who played in 10 games and Eastern Kentucky’s Tyler Swafford, who played in nine.

He also threw more touchdown passes than three quarterbacks in 2016.

In 2017, the OVC never got to see Kimble play.

The unfortunate thing was that he showed what he could do on the final drive of the Indiana State game, Dameron said.

Even while hurt, Kimble kept that ship afloat. A Kimble-less Panther offense meant having a quarterback make his first college start.

That new starting quarterback was Scotty Gilkey Jr. Gilkey Jr. took the reins from Kimble and had to adjust quickly to the life of a starting college quarterback.

“I think the biggest thing that I took from Mitch was how to deal with adversity,” Gilkey Jr. said. “He has definitely had his share of it. But not once did I hear him complain about his misfortune.”

Kimble traveled with the team to every road game because the Panthers still saw him as their leader and helped Gilkey Jr. and later Bud Martin on the sidelines.

“He was a calming influence on them,” Dameron said. “He was like a coach on the field for those guys.”

Gilkey Jr. called him a warrior that left it all on the field and knew who their leader was even though he was not playing.

After Gilkey Jr. won his first career start, he said after the game that “this win is for Mitch.”

“When I said win one for Mitch, I meant it,” Gilkey Jr. said. “I do wish him the best and he will be successful in anything he chooses to do in life.”

And Gilkey Jr. followed in his role model’s footsteps in the final seconds in Eastern’s senior day. He threw a game-tying touchdown pass with one second left in the game to send it to overtime where Eastern won.

And Kimble, as just a spectator on the sideline, said it was big time.

What is next for Kimble, he does not know. But football is ending on his terms. He is going to work to get to a Pro Day and if it works out it works out, if it does not, well, his path is taking him somewhere else where he’ll continue to lead.

Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or smhastings@eiu.edu

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Mitch Kimble: A career ruined by injuries