Donatell plays role even after injury

SUWANEE - Before every one of Peachtree Ridge's 14 games this season Tommy Donatell walks to midfield with the other captains for the coin toss.

He's easy to spot. He's the one without a helmet and no pads under his sparkling No. 2 jersey. At least that is how he has looked for 13 of those trips.

In Week 1 he looked different.

After playing safety for the Lions during his junior season, Donatell spent this summer rehabing a torn anterior cruciate ligament and earning the starting quarterback spot for Peachtree Ridge. His teammates had voted him captain and that is how he took the field for the opening game at Shiloh.

But on the first series of that first game everything changed.

"I just dropped back and planted," Donatell said. "It was a weird thing and I re-tore it."

What followed was one of the hardest things Donatell said he had to do - watch the game from the sideline.

"It was pretty tough at the game that I got hurt, just watching," Donatell said. "Then with the playoffs and all this success (it's been tough)."

But through it all Donatell still makes the weekly trip to midfield for the toss. Something he considers an honor.

"I am proud to be a captain on this team," he said. "They have worked hard. Of course I wish I could play, it's my senior year, it is disappointing, but it is out of my hands."

That accepting attitude is what allows Donatell to continue to play a role in the success of the Lions. Since his injury, he still attends most practices, often after rehab sessions, and is active on the sidelines during games.

"We've been friends a long time," starting quarterback Zach Graham said. "We talk on the sidelines and have a close relationship. We talk about a lot."

The son of Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, coaching is something that Tommy Donatell enjoys and wants to do in the future.

"It is something that I want to do," Donatell said. "I see my dad and I really like what he does."

But that future in coaching is not looming too closely - the senior is rehabing to be able to play again, not just watch.

Even as the Lions prepared for their first day of practice leading up to this Saturday's state championship game against Roswell, Donatell headed to rehab to continue work on his knee. It is a process he said should take about a year. But even now, about four months after the injury, his limp is gone and he is working on flexibility and strength.

"We've got a pretty good plan," Donatell said. "My goal right now is to stay focused and finish high school right and strong."

After that Donatell hopes to play as a walk-on, mostly likely at a college out west.

Wherever he ends up, his head coach Blair Armstrong is certain he will be a success, calling Donatell the smartest quarterback he ever coached, including his own son.

"He understands coverages. He understand reads. He knows when and where to throw the football," Armstrong said. "Somebody is going to get a nice surprise when he walks-on for them."

But Donatell's next big walk will be from the sidelines to the middle of the field at McEachern High School. One last trip as a chosen captain for Peachtree Ridge.

"I can't be more proud of my team," Donatell said. "It is hard watching it, but I have nothing to complain about. I can't wait till Saturday."