The most exciting football season of Trevon Walters' young life nearly ended before it began.
Roughly two weeks before Walters and Manatee opened the season on Labor Day Weekend live on national television, Walters suffered a hip injury during practice. He was carted off the field, the season and his role as the team's top running back hanging in the balance.
"It was scary," Walters said.
The diagnosis was a bad bruise.
Now what's truly frightening for the Hurricanes is thinking where they would be without Walters, a junior and Alabama native who filled one of Manatee's biggest gaps entering one of the most anticipated seasons in program history.
"It's like I'm living somebody's dream," said Walters, who goes by the nickname "Bama" in the locker room.
The dream continues Friday night when Manatee -- armed with a 10-0 record and the nation's No. 1 ranking, according to ESPN, MaxPreps and USA Today -- opens the Class 7A-Region 3 playoffs at Hawkins Stadium against St. Petersburg Northeast.
The Hurricanes aren't lacking for offense, but Walters has been one of their driving forces. He's ranked fourth in the area in rushing (924 yards), second in scoring (96 points) and ninth in receptions (27), not bad considering Walters rarely plays a full four quarters because of Manatee's steady diet of routs.
"He's caught the ball very well out of the backfield," said coach Joe Kinnan. "And we haven't given him the ball very much because he doesn't play much in the second half.
"He's very explosive."
Walters and his family moved to Bradenton toward the end of his freshman year. He spent most of last season on the JV team before being a late call-up during Manatee's run to the Class 7A state championship, a run helped along by powerful back Leon Allen, now at Western Kentucky.
Replacing Allen, as well as his solid blocking and team-best 863 rushing yards, was the biggest key for a Hurricanes team that returned
most of the offense.
That job was given to Walters.
"He watched, did everything he needed to. ... He was ready for this year," said offensive lineman Thor Miller. "As you can see, he has done a heck of a job.
"Speed, power, following the blocks, letting the blocks develop, we stress that a lot. We tell him, 'Just let the blocks happen, you do the rest.' And it's worked out."
Walters acknowledged there was some pressure heading into the season. Replacing a Division I running back is never easy, especially when the guy replacing him has a handful of varsity minutes on his resumé and has to do so on a team shooting for state and national titles.
It didn't take long for those nerves to fade: Walters totaled 162 yards of offense and scored twice during the Hurricanes' season-opening win over Miramar broadcast live on ESPN2.
"Everyone thinks he's doing a heck of a job," Miller said. "In practice, they mess with him, they hit him hard, kind of beat him up a little bit. But as you can see in the game, it helps him a lot. Knowing he's playing for us is really nice."
Walters' biggest challenge now is dealing with the fallout of Alabama's loss to Texas A&M last weekend. Everyone has been in on the razzing.
"The whole school," Walters said. "Teachers, administrators ... ."
Walters can deal with that, especially because Friday marks his first playoff game. It's another special moment in a season that began with a degree of uncertainty.
"It's been exciting," Walters said. "Nationally ranked, going to the playoffs undefeated, district champs -- and I'm a part of it. It feels good.