RAYMORE, MO (KCTV) – It’s a chilly Friday night in early November. The kind of crisp and cool evening that makes you say, “This is perfect football weather.”

The Raymore-Peculiar Panthers are facing Park Hill in their first playoff game of the season. They’re ranked as the sixth-best team in Missouri, and they’re one win away from securing the best football record in school history.

It’s minutes before kickoff, and the temperatures are flirting with freezing. The captains from each team meet at midfield, holding hands as they come face to face on the 50-yard line. Excitement grows on the sidelines; fans in the stands are jumping up and down, both with excitement, and to keep warm.

Lining up for the Panthers are four seniors; four young men who have helped lead this squad back from two of the worst records in team history. Now they’re one win away from a different kind of history.

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One of those captains, is #90. He’s a 6-foot, 215-pound defensive end that consistently wreaks havoc against his opponents. But what you can’t tell from the stands is that he’s come back, not once, but twice from major injuries. Now it’s his senior season, and he’s a team standout, a captain, and is now playing in the biggest game of his career.

Gerald Schiele didn’t start playing football until his freshman year of high school, but he didn’t consider his late start a disadvantage. Instead, he saw it as an opportunity to work harder; something that would become a pattern throughout his career.

“Most people have been playing since little league,” Gerald said. “So, it was different for me. Limited time. I wanted to take advantage of as much time as I had.”

His mom, Karren Schiele, knew early on that he had talent. In fact, he excelled so much as a sophomore that he started getting playing time on varsity.

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“He was good his freshman year,” she remembered. “He had worked his way up to sophomore year and was on JV but had a little bit of time playing varsity.”

It felt like just the beginning of a promising football career. Instead, it turned out to be the beginning of a much longer, more tenuous journey.

Early into the start of his sophomore season, Gerald went down in practice. Before anyone even told him the damage, he knew it was serious.

“The thing about it was, I knew it automatically because I heard it pop.”

It was a ripped medial collateral ligament, or as it’s more commonly known in the athletic world, a torn MCL. The average recovery time? Six to eight weeks. It meant he would miss the remainder of the season, but Gerald didn’t pause for a second.

“It was kind of just one of those things where it’s like… go with it and figure it out,” he said with a smile.

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His surgery went smoothly, but that was only the beginning. He was confined to crutches for weeks, struggling with simple tasks others often take for granted, like going up and down stairs or carrying his books to class. While the recovery was physically grueling for Gerald, it took a different toll on his mom.

“It was a lot of work,” Karren said sadly, glancing at her son. “It was a lot of buying ice, picking him up, dropping him off. It was hard seeing him crutch around.”

Gerald’s circumstances would give any teenager a perfectly good reason to wallow. Perhaps not even just teenagers, but anyone who’s plans were unexpectedly derailed. But Gerald remained positive. As Karren remembers, her son never lost that hard-working attitude for which he was so well known for.

“He was very strong throughout the entire process. I can’t think of one time that he complained,” she proudly recalled with a slight smile. “He had a very good attitude. He was probably stronger than I was.”

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Gerald would soon prove just how strong he really was, opting to return to football for his junior season. He worked throughout the offseason, slowly regaining his ability to walk, run, and eventually, play. Here was a fresh season, a chance to go back out and prove himself after an offseason comeback.

Ray-Pec struggled during the regular season, but Gerald was emerging as a standout. His outlook was bright, and his potential was palpable. Until the worst happened… again. Tragically, this time it was worse, and his mom was in the stands.

“I saw him go down. I saw his agony; I saw him rolling on the ground,” she recalled, pausing at the horrific memory. “I went over to the bench where they were sitting, he was crying. I could tell it was tears of pain, tears of frustration. I cried for myself because I knew what it meant for all of us. All of the changes that would have to happen over the next six months to get him back.”

The doctor told Gerald he had a torn MCL and a torn ACL, along with some bone bruises and other smaller injuries. It was also on the same leg he’d just rehabbed a year before.

No one would blame him if he opted out of his senior season; one torn ligament would make many high school athletes hang up their cleats for good. Now he was facing a second major injury, with two torn ligaments on the same leg.

It would be enough to make most athletes, even professional ones, say, “No thanks. I’m good.” And while the thought did cross Gerald’s mind, he decided to return again, this time for his senior season.

“I didn’t want him to,” Karren laughed. “I didn’t want him to play again, but I’m also not the type of parent that tries to control. I try to provide guidance, but I don’t try to control what they do.”

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It was an understandable concern for any parent. But for Gerald, the love of the game outweighed his fear of reinjury, and when debating his return, the answer felt clear.

“I love playing football,” he said simply. “I couldn’t imagine myself going back and sitting in the student section and not playing. Not being out there is just not an option for me.”

For the second time, Gerald would work his way back from a debilitating injury. He admits this time he was a little more nervous; the surgery was more invasive, and the rehab would be more painful. Yet he still had an advantage since this was familiar territory, something he knew he could work his way back from.

And he did. Gerald returned his senior season with power and force. His coaches quickly took notice of his work ethic, which set him apart from other players. Ray-Pec head coach Tom Kruse says it was obvious that Schiele was “going to have a special season,” calling him an example for the rest of the team.

“He’s the first one to practice, last one to leave. He does everything that you would think, and then also takes care of his teammates,” Kruse explained. “His teammates know they can count on him for just about anything. [The coaches] count on him. If things go awry, Gerald’s a guy we’ll turn to.”

Gerald is second on the team for sacks, tallying three so far this season. Kruse jokes it’s exactly that drive and determination that made him a favorite among coaches.

“You always hear the old saying that coaches play their favorites,” Kruse said. “Well yeah, when your favorite does everything that’s asked of you, and they’re a good player, they become a favorite pretty quickly.”

It’s exactly that outlook that got Gerald promoted to team captain this year, where he’s helped lead the team to their best record in school history. His mom still shows up for every game, holding her breath as she watches her son from the stands, filled with a mix of both pride and fear.

“I’m excited for him, very happy for him. I honestly pray through each game that he doesn’t get injured again,” Karren said. “Each game, when he walks off the field, I’m ecstatic. We run and hug each other.”

His teammates are equally filled with pride and admiration. Fellow senior and co-captain Jackson Hilsabeck plays alongside Gerald on defense and had a front seat to watch his teammate comeback to help lead this team.

“He’s the hardest worker I know. In the offseason, on the field, he’s there for everybody. He’s a great captain,” Hilsabeck said, calling Schiele a leader both on and off the field.

“If you want to go off anyone on the team, it would be him. The hard work, the motivation, the dedication, the attitude for sure,” he continued. “He brings something that a lot of people aren’t able to bring to high school football. It’s rare.”

For those wondering how the game went, Ray-Pec won against Park Hill, officially giving the Panthers their best football record in school history. Gerald’s teammates credit him with a large part of their success this season, thanks to his efforts in bringing the team together.

“It’s really paid off, obviously. We’re having a great season. He’s one of the frontrunners in showing that,” Hilsabeck said.

When asked about what it was like to come back for, not only a healthy season, but a historic one, Gerald smiled.

“It was nice to be a captain and help the team to where we are now and be able to encourage people and help get to the playoffs, he said. “Now that we’re in the playoffs, just being able to change the way that the team is. Our attitude, we just changed the culture of the football team and made it a winning program.”

As for his mom? She’s pretty proud of her son.

“To see all of the work that he did, and the tenacity of the physical therapy, to see him do so well this year, to make captain, to just have an opportunity to complete the season, you know, I can’t even explain,” Karren told KCTV5 News. “I am extremely proud of him. I am so happy for him.”

Gerald hasn’t decided if or where he’ll play college ball yet, but his coach certainly thinks that he has what it takes to make it at the next level.

“The drive that young man has towards life, not just football, just his drive towards life, Kruse said. “That’s the kind of kid that he is. He will be.”

No one can argue that Gerald has a special kind of drive; one that will take him extraordinarily far in life. But for Gerald, right now he’s just focused on his team and his health.

“Being able to play that full season and not have that injury-prone stigma around me feels real good,” he said. “It’s nice to be out there with my team.”

There’s no doubt that everyone, from the coaches to his teammates to his mom, are just as happy to see him out there on that field.

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