Wamego senior quarterback Marshall Wethington is quite the talent, but he wasn’t supposed to be, according to medical science.
The 6-foot-3 signal caller has amassed 1,756 yards in the air and thrown 16 touchdown passes to just 10 interceptions this season.
Wethington is just a few yards behind the Red Raiders’ top rusher with 272 yards and another 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Yet, Wethington, who has started the past two seasons for Wamego, was never supposed to put up such numbers. The lefty wasn’t even supposed to yell “hike,” let alone lead Wamego to a 5-3 record and perfect 5-0 record in the North Central Kansas League this season.
If Wethington had listened to the doctors, he would be watching tonight’s regular season finale at Hayden from the visiting bleachers.
During his freshman year of high school Wethington suffered an injury during a basketball game. It was treated as a deep-bone bruise, according to his mother, Julie. She said the the pain persisted so much the Wethington family grew more and more concerned.
Further testing showed Marshall had a tear inside hip socket and would require surgery. Though Wethington seemed to improve and was ready for his sophomore season of football, the pain returned.
“About three days into practice he was in so much pain, he couldn’t do it,” his mother said.
Wethington went back to the doctor — this time to the KU medical center — and more tests didn’t bring good news. He was diagnosed with juvenile ankylosing spondylitis — a form of arthritis.
“They told him football would not be a sport that would be ideal for him,” Julie said.
“It was really quiet in the room,” interjected Phillip, Marshal’s father and team statistician. “It took a little while for it to sink in, for all of us, because we all know how much he loves football. It was really quiet.
“I don’t think he was able to accept it.”
Though Wethington played in a few spot situations as a freshman, his sophomore year was spent purely as a spectator — while undergoing treatment.
It was a difficult situation for sure. After all, Wethington had been playing QB since the fourth grade.
“I was pretty crushed when I heard (the doctor’s news),” Wethington said. “Right after (the doctor) said that, I knew I was going to fight as hard as I could to come back.”
Wethington would go to every practice he could and be as involved with the team as possible, even though his role was that of an observer.
When current head coach Dale Burkholder came to Wamego the following summer, Wethington, who still requires medication to this day, had worked his way back to playing shape and got the OK from doctors.
He got back on the field last year as a junior for the Red Raiders before ultimately breaking his hand a few games in and having to miss the rest of the season.
This season, however, Wethington has been one of the more steady and consistent standouts in the area, leading Wamego to four more wins than it had in the previous two seasons combined.
“He’s doing pretty spectacular,” Burkholder said last week. “In my experience, you show me a kid that has overcome something big and I’ll show you a tough young man, and he is one.
“He’s not supposed to be out here playing football. He’s an example of overcoming something really huge. He’d have a million reasons not to play right now. But he wants to play and he’s out here doing it, and he’s doing a great job. He’s a great high school quarterback, and is really only a junior out here, considering his experience.
“He’s only going to get better.”
Today Wethington looks like the ideal quarterback. He’s big, he’s strong, and gives no impression that his athletic career was ever in jeopardy. He has great zip on his throws and can hit targets in stride whether the pass is for 5 yards or 50 yards.
Wethington is also a gutsy scrambler this season — so much so that cheers of “Tebow Time!” can be heard from the stands in Wamego when the Red Raiders get close to the goal line.
Burkholder said he was a clear leader for the starting quarterback position when he came to Wamego two years ago.
“There was no doubt,” Burkholder said. “Not after I saw him throw the ball.”
While Wethington shocked doctors with his comeback, his parents weren’t.
“No,” Julie and Phillip laughed.
“He’s always been determined,” Julie said. “He has a very strong faith in God and trusted that God would help him find a way to do it… and he has a lot of encouragement from people in this community.
“I just love watching him play. I love that he’s playing and that he is happy.”
“He’s a good kid,” Phillip added. “He’s a good student, a good leader. I’m just really proud of him and it’s really amazing to see him out there.”
For Wethington, not playing again was never an option.
“I just love the game and my teammates,” he said. “I love it a lot and it pushed me to come back. I knew I’d be back. After taking the first few hits when I came back, I knew I was going to be OK.”
Burkholder said Wethington’s story has given him inspiration to pass on to others.
“He’s a tough customer,” Burkholder said. “ I really appreciate him as a player — I’ll use him as an example for the rest of my life, on how to overcome something, and to be good. He’s going to play college football somewhere and throw the football.”
Now all someone needs to do is tell Wethington he’ll never play college football. After all, proving people wrong has been his specialty.