WATERVILLE — In anticipation of Saturday’s season-opening game against Trinity, the Colby College football team held a walk-thru practice Thursday morning.

Senior linebacker Sebastien Philemon, one of the Mules’ four captains, took part in practice as much as he could. For most of the preseason, Philemon’s left foot and ankle have been in a protective boot. Thursday morning, Philemon rested his injured leg on a scooter as coaches went over final details of Saturday’s defensive game plan.

Philemon said he expects to miss a couple more weeks, and knows the injury could have been a lot worse. He was running through a pass defense drill on the second day of practice, and leapt to defend a jump ball pass. Philemon’s left foot landed on his teammate, and he immediately thought of Gordon Hayward, who suffered a similar injury in his first game as a Boston Celtic last fall.

“Came down at worst possible angle. Ankle just popped right out. I got extremely lucky. It looked a lot like Gordon Hayward, but in reality it was just a really bad rolled ankle. It dislocated, but it popped back in. It’s going to be fine,” Philemon said. “I’ve been in the boot for two and a half, almost three (weeks). Really, just a couple more weeks to get walking again, get running when the ligaments heal. I’ll be good as new.”

The son of Haitian immigrants and a graduate of Boston Latin School, named the top public high school in Massachusetts by US News and World Report in its 2018 rankings, Philemon didn’t need his mental and physical toughness proven or tested. The injury did just that, though, and to new Colby head football coach Jack Cosgrove, proved why Philemon was named a Mules captain in the first place.

“The thing that has really caught my attention is what he’s done since he’s been hurt. He’s really highly influential. He’s been a part of everything. Every meeting, every practice, everything,” said Cosgrove, who spent more than 20 years as head coach at the University of Maine before retiring from that position after the 2015 season. “The day it happened, I was just astounded by how well he handled it. A senior captain, his last year, all that stuff rolled into one. Here we are in a first practice type of thing and he handled it like a man. I’m really proud of him for that. That’s what really stood out to me. He really understands this game is not about him. It’s about all of us. How he handled things sent a great message to our football team.”

“It’s definitely been the most mentally difficult thing for me. At the same time though, I realize these guys need to play football. They have a season coming up. Me moping around about myself doesn’t help anyone, especially myself. Keep a positive attitude, be there for the boys, and make sure we’re ready to go on Saturday,” Philemon added.

Without Philemon at middle linebacker, Colby must play without a tackling machine. The 6-foot, 220-pound Philemon led the Mules with 76 tackles last season, 25 more than his nearest teammate. He was sixth in the New England Small College Athletic Conference in tackles per game, averaging 8.4 stops.

Philemon moved from defensive end to linebacker in 10th grade. The new position was a natural fit. He calls linebacker “the best position on the field.” On defense, Philemon said, the defensive backs are the fast guys, the ones expected to cover and go up to get the ball, or at least prevent it from being caught by the receiver. The defensive tackles are there to put guys in the dirt, Philemon said.

“Then you have the LBs. They have to do both. Our coach (Colby defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Sean Conerly) says, always, ‘Run like a DB, hit like a D tackle.’ We’re hybrids,” Philemon said. “You can be a beast. You can utilize every ounce of your athleticism.”

Philemon’s background as a high school wrestler became an asset when it was time to play college football. One of the biggest moves in wrestling is the double leg takedown, he said, and that’s essentially a football tackle.

“Nowadays, they’re coaching football players how to tackle the same way wrestlers would have a takedown. The same way that rugby players tackle. Head on the inside. Cheek to cheek, we like to say. It made me an athlete. Before, I wasn’t anywhere close to where I am right now. I couldn’t be any more grateful,” Philemon said.

Right now, there’s no timetable for Philemon’s return to the field, Cosgrove said.

“There’s no getting away from the fact you’re losing a football player, and we don’t know for how long yet. Hopefully, we’re going to get some good news,” Cosgrove said. “There’s no doubt we’re going to miss him on the field. Experience has tremendous value in this game.”

Philemon’s drive to succeed academically and athletically was instilled by his parents. His father, Pegui, came from Haiti in the late 1980s to study. His mother, Nancy, arrived soon after. They were married in 1992, and have been in Boston since. First, the family lived in the Mattapan neighborhood, which has a heavy Haitian population. Now, the Philemons live in Hyde Park. Both of Philemon’s parents are registered nurses working at Beth Israel Deconess Medical Center.

“You think about coming from the bottom to being somewhere they’re very proud of, that’s my parents,” Philemon said. “I think about them every single day. They’re the people I try to be better than, because they’ve done so much for me to get to Colby College.”

Philemon speaks three languages: English, French, and Haitian Creole. Philemon’s parents wanted to integrate into American culture, so it was English that was predominantly spoken in the home when he grew up.

“But you get my mom angry, and you know (Creole’s) coming,” he said.

A double major studying Government and French Studies, Philemon spent last spring studying abroad in France. With the Mules getting to know Cosgrove, who was hired just after Christmas, Philemon struggled being away.

“It was a great experience, but at the same time, I hated being away from the team. I want the two degrees though. The French major requires you to spend a semester abroad. That’s why I went. Lifting in kilograms alone in a tiny French gym, not so fun,” Philemon said.

Cosgrove met Philemon briefly during the hiring process. The linebacker was a member of the selection committee charged with interviewing candidates. This fall has been a getting-to-know-you crash course for the captain and the coach, who share roots in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

“I had conversations with him in the spring while he was away, and I had met him on my interview,” Cosgrove said. “He’s really got it together as a student athlete. It’s that kind of leadership that we need. We as coaches are trying to teach, instruct, mentor, all those things. A football team, it really matters what takes place in the locker room, what the leadership pipeline is like. I think he’s one of the key reasons, along with our other captains, we’ve been able to make some really good strides here in the 17 days we’ve had to prepare for this (Trinity) game.”

Philemon plans on law school as his next step. Where is a question. His mother wants Harvard, Philemon said they’ll talk about it. What discipline of law he’d like to study, Philemon is unsure.

“I’ve always told myself I’d like to work with immigrants, because I’m from a family of immigrants. At the same time though, I really don’t know,” Philemon said. “My dad always says, in this life as an adult, you’re not respected unless you have financial independence. I hope to establish that right away.”

First, when his ankle is healed, Philemon wants to reestablish himself as the key player in the middle of Colby’s defense.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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