Easton Trakel rolled his ankle, severely, in the third quarter of Tumwater High’s 28-27 loss to Sedro-Woolley in the Class 2A state football semifinals last fall.
It was painful, and terribly timed, and what hurt most was the star junior wingback was on the sideline for the end of the Thunderbirds’ season.
But at least it was an injury Trakel could understand — an athletic injury.
For several weeks this summer, however, he battled a physical condition less easy to comprehend — and it started with a spider bite.
He didn’t get super-arachnoid powers — he got MRSA. In the medical books, the initials stand for “methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.” In real life, it means a skin infection that is hard to diagnose, often hard to treat and stubbornly slow to heal.
Trakel, 17, doesn’t know when the spider bit him, or where he picked up the infection — possibly from working out at his athletic club or in the high school weight room. When his left arm swelled to double its size and an alarming wound formed on his biceps, he knew something was up. Later, another lesion appeared on his triceps.
The doctors he first consulted were stumped. When he visited Madigan Army Medical Center, however, he got a diagnosis: MRSA.
“It was scary when I first found out,” Trakel said. “My friends said, ‘You’ll be fine,’ but I looked up MRSA and read some of the stories about it ... it was kind of scary. I said, man, this is a bad time for this to happen.”
Right in the heart of his summer training for his senior football season, he spent three nights in the hospital and underwent two surgical procedures to clean out the wounds.
He came home from the hospital with a drainage tube in his arm. After a week, when the tube came out, it took four days for the wounds to close. MRSA microbes can be anywhere, he learned, so the Trakel family had to do a scrupulous disinfecting clean of the entire house.
A characteristic of MRSA is its resistance to the penicillin family of antibiotics and other classes of anti-microbials. Trakel popped three green pills three times a day — a drug called clindamycin — and the wounds gradually healed. Today, the infection is gone, and he was full-go as the Thunderbirds opened fall practices last week.
“MRSA is always a concern,” Tumwater coach Sid Otton said. “What’s the infection going to do? Fortunately, he had the medical attention he needed, and he responded well to it.”
The state’s winningest all-time coach welcomes more than 120 players, freshman through senior, this fall, including eight returning starters on offense and four on defense.
Otton’s teams always share the ball-carrying load, but expect Trakel to get his share of touches after a junior season yielded 15 total touchdowns and 1,631 all-purpose yards.
He’s a threat to go the distance anytime he touches the ball, whether rushing, receiving or returning.
“He’s a tremendous talent, a lot of experience,” Otton said, “and speed — we’ll utilize his speed.
“It’s a combination of skills — he’s not just a tremendous runner, he’s a great receiver, too.”
A junior season Trakel highlight reel shows off the package: quick-cutting outside speed plus make-’em-miss instincts inside — until the traffic clears and he has a better view of the end zone.
Trakel is a nice problem to have for college football recruiters: they’re not sure what position is his best. So they list him as an “athlete.” It means he can run, catch and defend.
He’s a starting free safety on Tumwater’s defense, likely seeing more downs in the secondary this year against teams that emphasize the pass, he said.
This athlete played second base for the T-Bird baseball team as a freshman and sophomore, but last spring he turned out for track and field for the first time, competing in sprint events and advancing to state in the long jump.
So far, Trakel said, he has a firm football offer from Montana State, and is getting active interest from Montana, Boise State, Washington State and Eastern Washington.
He expects to look at which program will best help him become a graduate assistant coach, with an eye toward full-time college coaching.
But those considerations are for later — he has a senior football season in front of him. He and his teammates, especially his fellow seniors, have used the hard loss in the semis last year, he said, to motivate them through summer drills.
Trakel and senior quarterback Spencer Dowers were freshmen on the varsity when Lynden knocked the T-Birds out of the playoffs in 2012, and in their sophomore season Tumwater again fell to Lynden, this time in the 2013 2A state title game.
“We’ve seen us lose three years in a row, and we know why we lost,” Trakel said. “Next year is now — this is our last football season. We’ve just been locked in — try to break the curse of losing and bring that ring home.”
The ankle injury still asserts itself — “You know it’s there” — but he doesn’t slow down for it.
He lost 12 pounds during the worst of the infection and its aftermath, but he’s back now to about 175 pounds on his 5-foot-10 frame and hopes to be at 185 for the season. Like defenders in his wake, MRSA is in his rear-view mirror.
“I’m good,” Trakel said. “I’m ready.”