Corwin Cutler rolled to the middle of the huddle because he’s the quarterback. That’s where he belongs.
Only this time, Cutler wasn’t in there to call out the play or set the snap count. In fact, this type of huddle was of the pre-game variety. There were still 20 minutes left until his Ocean Lakes Dolphins took on the L.C. Bird Skyhawks on Saturday in the Group AAA, Division 6 state championship at Scott Stadium.
Also this time, Cutler literally did roll to the gathering of teammates. He wasn’t sprinting or skipping his way in. A wheelchair had to take him there.
The last high school game Cutler was to be associated with wasn’t supposed to be like this. The impressive 6-foot-4, 185-pounder headed to the University of Virginia next fall should have been warming up his big right arm at this point. Should have been sizzling passes to his receivers, sharpening the chemistry before one final shot at a title on a field where his future was to be played.
But, no, Cutler was in this huddle as a symbol for motivation. His physical ability couldn’t be used this evening. Eventually he would move to the sideline, where he would watch — alternating moments spent on crutches or in the wheelchair — the Dolphins fall to the Skyhawks, 14-10, denying Ocean Lakes its first state crown in school history.
“Every playoff game I wasn’t out there with them, it was just eating a hole in my heart,” Cutler said. “I couldn’t describe the pain. It was my senior year and I had something bright ahead of me.
“But it’s all good, though. They fought for me until the end, and that’s all that matters.”
The Dolphin postseason run turned into a dedication to Cutler on Nov. 9 when the three-star signal caller lost possession of the football on a wet night in Virginia Beach.
Ocean Lakes was in the second quarter of its first round playoff game against Granby.
“I was on the 10-yard line,” Cutler said. “I turned to get the ball out, but it slipped out of my hand. It was real rainy that day and I had a glove on. I looked up when I was running to grab it, and, when I ran, I stepped on the kid and he was falling forward. The other one hit me high. My foot slipped behind me so he landed dead on my knee.
“My knee just snapped.”
Cue nervous thoughts darting through Cutler’s head.
“It just felt weird,” he said. “It didn’t even hurt. It just felt weird. I knew something was wrong with my leg and I tried to get up and it just didn’t happen.”
The result was a torn ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus. Surgery was required. Cutler’s storied prep career was over. His quick jump to UVa was on hold.
But it hardly dampened his spirits. He still was a co-captain for a team four wins away from its ultimate goal of capturing a state championship.Ocean Lakes just had to do it minus the Beach District Offensive Player of the Year.
“He never let the team realize that we couldn’t do it without him,” Dolphins coach Chris Scott said of Cutler, who threw for 2,232 yards and 31 touchdowns this season. “He believed in Churchie and I think him believing in Churchie allowed everyone else to believe.”
“Churchie” is the nickname for Walter Harold, a 6-2, 165-pound junior quarterback who was forced to relieve Cutler. Harold happens to be the nephew of current Cavalier defensive end Eli Harold.
The situation, in one way, was UVa helping UVa. In a more direct way, it was Ocean Lakes helping Ocean Lakes.
The Dolphins were still the best team in the state in Cutler’s mind. He wanted Harold to know that.
“I talked to Churchie a lot,” Cutler said. “My dad did, too. He’s young, but he still understands the game that is football. He has a tough heart.”
With confidence instilled in him via Cutler, Harold guided the Dolphins to playoff wins over Western Branch, Oscar Smith and C.D. Hylton before falling just short against Bird.
“That was the platform of maybe a guy passing the torch, but (Cutler) did it with pride and dignity and allowed everyone else to know, ‘This is the guy now,’” Scott said. “That takes a lot and it just says a lot about him as a young man. I’m very proud of him and I’m very excited to see what he’s going to do because he’s a special man on the field and he’s a very special man off the field.”
Cutler goes by the moniker “Turtle” because as a 2-year-old, as he put it, he “literally did everything slow.”
Unfortunately, his rise at Virginia won’t be quick, either. Cutler said the recovery process could take up to a year before a return to the football field at 100 percent. And once he gets there, he could be looking at at least five other Wahoo quarterbacks he’ll have to challenge for playing time.
As he sat back in his wheelchair on Saturday, his highlighter orange left shoe pointed toward the Charlottesville sky, bringing attention to his damaged knee, Cutler hardly flinched when the thought of adversity was brought to his attention.
His high school career shouldn’t have ended like this. His college career can help better finalize his story.
“We’re going to go through some struggles because that’s life,” Cutler said. “But I learned from this. I learned how to be a better leader from having this hole in my heart.
“I think I’ll be good in the future.”