Through the first half of the season, New Richmond senior linebacker Clayton Van Dyk has had to play with a heavy guard wrapped around his left hand.

He is extremely fortunate that his left hand remains intact. In late July, Van Dyk was involved in a farm accident at his family's farm just outside Boardman. Damage was done to the index, middle and ring fingers of that hand. The index and ring fingers were both broken, requiring pins to be inserted to assure that the fingers would heal in their proper alignment.

Van Dyk never let the injury derail his plans for the Tiger football season. The pins in the two fingers were removed the night before the Tigers' season opener. Despite not being able to take part in any of the on-field practices to that point, Van Dyk was on the field in the opener and was one of the leading tacklers in the Tigers' 17-14 win over River Falls.

Tiger coach Keith Badger said Van Dyk shadowed defensive coordinator Cash Langeness in those early practices, and he was doing extra running on the sidelines to make sure his body would be ready if he got the doctor's approval to play.

"He was prepared, he knew the scheme for the game," Badger said.

The accident that damaged Van Dyk's hand happened in an instant. They were unloading corn and a machine started before he expected. His hand got caught on a conveyer belt. He said he was surprised more than anything.

"Usually we're so safe about that stuff on the farm," he said. "It was bleeding pretty good, so we went to the emergency room."

Along with the two fingers being broken, all three were cut and needed stitches. After a week, the doctors decided that pins were needed to make sure the bones in the fingers would heal in the proper alignment. The pins were removed after three weeks, just in time for Van Dyk's football season.

Van Dyk said he's heard horror stories from pretty much everyone he knows in the farming life about farm accidents.

"It's mostly people telling me how lucky I am, which I understand," he said.

How fortunate was Van Dyk? His doctors have told him the only scars he may end up with a few bumps on the nails of the fingers that were injured. He may not say it, but the wry smile he flashes shows that he understands his good fortune.

The injury hasn't altered Van Dyk's plans for his future. He plans to make farming a career, working with his cousins Jake, Zach and Josh on the family farm. He also is considering attending UW-River Falls to study ag business.

Badger credited Van Dyk for being an excellent student. Van Dyk tried to downplay the importance of his leadership to the football team.

"Everyone around me helps me to be able to help them succeed. I'm more confident when I'm around my teammates" he said.,

Badger said Van Dyk's leadership has been invaluable.

"He's very modest. He's a very good leader. He's smart enough to do anything he wants, and I know he'll succeed at it," Badger said.