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Battered and bruised

Buford offensive lineman Shaun Artz needed surgery in the offseason to repair his injured shoulder. If the senior didn't have the surgery, it probably wouldn't have mattered. He still would have played. He did last season.

Artz's threshold for pain is higher than most people, but for football players it's the norm. He played last season with an injured shoulder and this year has played with a sprained ankle and a fractured thumb.

"Our trainers say he's one of the toughest kids and I believe them," Buford head coach Jess Simpson said. "He's just a tough kid."

Being hurt and playing football go hand-in-hand. It's as much as part of the game as blocking and tackling.

After all, one body colliding into another body or multiple bodies will eventually lead to some aches and pains. Sometimes even injuries.

But that's the life of a football player.

"It's a big part and a lot of kids don't have it in their makeup," Simpson said. "Some kids can develop it, but others just don't have it."

Muscle cramps, throbbing pain and sore muscles are some of the common pains associated with playing football. It's a discomfort that becomes the norm after lining up and taking a beating for two and a half hours on a Friday. The fine line in that pain is determining when your body is hurt and when it's injured.

"Being hurt and being injured are two different things," Grayson head coach Mickey Conn said. "Every kid has a hurt shoulder or knee, or something else. At this point in the season you are going to have some aches and pains. That comes with playing football. It's a contact sport. Everybody has a little bumps and bruises."

An injury in Week 1 can have lingering effects throughout the season. Parkview linebacker Matt Johnson, who is among the county leaders in tackles, suffered bone bruising and swelling in his shins early in the season. Now he plays through the pain every week as the Panthers battle for a playoff spot. Same goes for Dacula linebacker Kinard Thomas, who has turf toe and a stress fracture and has played and practiced every day since the second week.

"This time of year everyone is banged up," Collins Hill coach Billy Wells said.

"When you're in Week 7 or 8 you're going to be dinged up. It's those teams that can fight through it that will make you successful."

A lot of players will ignore that pain if it means helping their team win a game.

"Our kids won't tell us (they're hurt) because they want to (play)," Peachtree Ridge head coach Bill Ballard said. "That's the big thing is you've got to get them to tell you so you can back off them in practice and do what you need to so you can get them well."

Grayson defensive lineman Joseph Champaign is a prime example. The senior hurt his knee against Brookwood, came out of the game and then went back in to finish the game. The next day it was revealed he had torn the ACL in his knee.

Champaign's knee injury has been a common theme for Grayson the last few weeks. Right tackle Justin Carlyle has played with a partially torn ACL all season.

Nick Benzor tore his ACL in the Shiloh game and Jeshua Pope tore his at practice after the Parkview game.

Benzor and Champaign are rehabbing and hope to return this season.

"Some kids are more tolerable to pain and will play hurt," Conn said. "Sometimes they don't care how injured they are. A lot of kids on our team are like that and they want to play."

But the Rams are not the only team with injuries. Every week coaches have to assess who can play hurt and who needs time to heal. Parkview's Brooks Davis tore his ACL last season and has had some lingering pain this year. Khari Alexander is back after torn ligaments in his finger and Jay Davis has a finger sprain and still is among the county leaders in receptions.

Berkmar's Samir Mustafic has battled a meniscus tear in his knee and Mill Creek center Austin Hagan has played with a separated shoulder all year.

But that's part of football. Learning to deal with pain and play through it.

"We teach at the beginning of the year before they start hitting that there's a difference between being injured and being hurt," Conn said. "You have to play hurt, that's part of the game."