It was something that Brandon Gerlach had done hundreds, maybe even thousands of times since he took up soccer as a boy.
In a nonleague match in December, the Burroughs High senior midfielder slid a few times on the artificial turf, opening a sizable wound on his thigh.
“I was wearing my old sliders because I couldn’t find my new ones and those ones had a hole in them,” Gerlach said. “I ended up sliding a couple of times and I opened up my leg pretty good. But I just thought ‘OK, I’ll just put some bandages over it and it should be fine.’”
Patched up, Gerlach didn’t miss his next start for the Indians. Being one of the team’s captains, the senior wasn’t going to let his injury sideline him.
However, in the second straight contest, he slid right on the same spot.
“In the next game, I just ended up grinding it down and it got pretty bad,” Gerlach. “Then it got infected and that’s when I had to go in. It was really gross looking.”
When the infection persisted, Gerlach was taken to receive emergency medical attention on Dec. 19, causing him to miss a nonleague contest against Sherman Oaks Notre Dame.
The infection was so severe that Gerlach was sidelined for about three weeks. The time sitting on the bench was excruciating for Gerlach. He longed to be where he felt most comfortable and felt helpless not being able to help his team.
“It really sucked,” Gerlach said. “It was so hard for me to just sit there and watch. I was just waiting until it got better and I could get out there and play. I just wanted to play.”
Gerlach’s teammates were well aware of their leader’s strife.
“Brandon’s a pretty tough guy, so for something to keep him out of a game, you know it is pretty bad,” said Michael Conrad, a senior defender. “I know he didn’t like having to sit out.”
Once healed, Gerlach rejoined the team and took up right where he left off as a leader for Burroughs. Running the team’s set pieces and directing the Indians as perhaps the team’s most skilled player, Burroughs responded and embarked on a fruitful Pacific League campaign.
With Gerlach paving the way, Burroughs captured its second straight league championship in a league top heavy with talented teams. He was rewarded for his efforts, as he was named the Pacific League Player of the Year. Gerlach was also honored among the top players in CIF Southern Section Division III, earning All-CIF first-team honors. It was his second straight All-CIF accolade.
It is because of his accomplishments that Gerlach has been selected as the 2014 All-Area Boys’ Soccer Player of the Year by the sportswriters of the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and La Cañada Valley Sun.
Although Gerlach was an All-CIF standout for the Indians as a junior during the 2002-13 season, Burroughs Coach Mike Kodama wanted to expand the player’s responsibilities during his senior campaign. Gerlach was asked to take on more of a leadership role. It is a role that he relished.
Gerlach played in 22 games, scored five goals and had 10 assists. He also came up big in league for the Indians, scoring game-winners versus Crescenta Valley and Arcadia.
“I do enjoy the leadership spot,” said Gerlach, who plays club soccer for FC Golden State. “I think the key parts to playing the captain role is how close I was with everyone on the team. We were all super close and I had played with a lot of them since I was little. So that made it so much easier for me … it was just awesome.”
Kodama, who has won nine league titles with the Indians, said Gerlach was an invaluable player for Burroughs.
“We really asked Brandon to do a lot of things for us this season,” Kodama said. “Sometimes you would see Brandon in the middle of the field and sometimes you would see him up top. We really gave him the freedom to choose where he thought was best and where he needed to be and what he needed to do to make the team move best.
“He is such a hard worker and he is always giving it his all on the field. He also just has the ability and that talent to take it to another gear when he needs to.”
Along with Gerlach and Conrad, senior VJ Salazar was also one of Burroughs’ captains. Salazar played alongside Gerlach for two years on the varsity level and said he realized early on his teammate’s worth on the pitch.
“He is just such a hard-working guy and he is always working on things to try and get better as a player,” said Salazar, a midfielder/defender. “He’s always been one of those guys who is really focused and really determined. It’s nice to have a person like that on the team.”
Conrad said Gerlach’s skills were only matched by his attributes as a person.
“He’s probably the nicest guy I’ve ever met,” Conrad said. “Along with that, as far as skills are concerned, he was our fastest player, he’s strong, he’s smart and he’s just about everything you would want in a soccer player.
“Sometimes I would watch the things that he would do on the field and I would be like ‘Holy crap,’ how did he just do what he did? His skills are just amazing.”
Gerlach was a definite force on the field for the Indians. If he wasn’t pushing up on offense when the team needed a spark, he was patrolling the midfield or dropping back to help the Burroughs defense.
“He is just one of those players who makes the other players around him better,” Kodama said.
Although the Indians had some close contests in league, they limited opposing teams to just 11 goals in 14 games. Burroughs finished 16-4-4 overall and 11-1-2 in league.
However, the league title wasn’t determined until the final game of the regular season on Feb. 13. The Indians defeated crosstown rival Burbank, 4-2, on the strength of hat trick from Milosh Petko.
Gerlach said that championship proved a fitting accomplishment in his final season in the Burroughs program.
“We had a lot of seniors on the team this year and I’ve been with a lot of those guys since I was a freshman,” Gerlach said. “It was really nice to finish up with a league title. To get that in our last year at Burroughs means a lot to us. It’s something that I know we’ll all remember.
“It was just great for me to end my time at Burroughs with a bang.”
Follow Jeff Tully on Twitter: @jefftsports.