Quarterback James Linenberger asked offensive lineman Nikolai Louritt if he needed to come out of the game a week ago against Rocky Ford. Linenberger knew Louritt struggled moving laterally with his metal legs.
But then, Nikolai amazed. Again.
Last year Louritt was a feel-good story when he played on the kickoff team for Cripple Creek-Victor. This year, the boy nicknamed “Legless” (with care) by some teammates is a starter on the offensive line.
“You can’t tell me what I can and can’t do,” Louritt said. “I can do whatever I want.”
While Louritt’s story between the sidelines has been inspiring, it didn’t start here. His life began in a Russian orphanage.
He was born without most of his right leg (since amputated), and had missing bones in his left foot. The Russian native was an orphan two months from his third birthday when his life changed drastically — all due to a fairy tale a little girl once wrote.
Kati, Nikolai’s adoptive mother, lost her daughter, Melissa, to lymphoma at 11. Melissa was always very creative and loved to write stories, her mom said.
After Melissa passed, Kati looked back on her daughter’s stories saved on their home computer. While reading, she discovered a story Melissa had wrote about her family going overseas and adopting a boy.
She saw it as a sign.
“Our friend showed us a video of (Nikolai) because he was adopting too,” Kati said. “When we saw it we knew he was our son, so we went over there and got him using the money from our daughter’s memorial.”
Once adopted, Kati and her husband met with five doctors and decided to amputate Nikolai’s left leg below his knee.
“It was so he could have greater mobility,” Kati said.
Nearly 13 years later, 16-year-old Louritt admits he hasn’t heard of too many Russian football players, or a football player who has a hydraulic right knee.
And he knows his mother isn’t thrilled with him playing contact sports.
“I don’t understand why they are trying to hurt each other. I’m a mom, I don’t understand that,” Kati said. “But I am glad he is in team sports.”
In fact, she’d rather he just focus on grades, but she supports his love of football.
Every weekday morning, Louritt puts on his legs, and heads to school. The legs together weigh about 14 pounds, and with them he stands at about 5-foot-11, weighing 175 pounds.
He sits through his classes during the day, but once the bell rings in the afternoon he knows it’s time for football.
A year ago, it was just to be the team manager until he played at the end of the season. Now it’s to start on the offensive line.
Coach Jim Bertrand has also thrown him onto the defensive line, and even had Louritt play a little linebacker.
“He doesn’t accept (his situation) as a handicap,” Bertrand said. “He does what everyone else does, period.”
Before practice, Louritt’s metal legs are wrapped in foam to help protect others, and checked by his coaches. He was cleared to play games by the Colorado High School Activities Association if his foam is checked by referees. Once practice starts, he does every drill, runs every sprint, and takes every hit just like the rest of the team, said his coach.
Sometimes it comes at a price.
“Yeah, we break one of his legs almost every practice,” Linenberger said laughingly.
When that happens, his teammates help Louritt to the locker room, so he can put on his spare. Louritt's metal feet alone cost $400 apiece, and he’s gone through three this season.
“I haven’t completely broke my leg; usually just my feet,” he said reassuringly.
This time last year Louritt’s starting role on the field was unforeseen. He heard from some people he shouldn’t play — that he wasn’t equipped for it.
So, knowing his odds topped out at slim-to-none in regards to ever being a starter, the junior-to-be lifted weights during the offseason, and got better.
At first sight this year, tight end Jared Bowman said Louritt was timid and even a little shaky. He worried if Louritt was going to be able keep up with the pace of the game — especially with his problematic issue of moving side-to-side.
But while Louritt may be the slowest player on the team, Bowman found out he has the most guts.
“Out of everyone on the team he’s willing to take the biggest hit,” Bowman said. “And he’s also willing to give the biggest hit.”
Bowman knows that Louritt will keep getting better. He’s already proven it’s not his legs with a couple of loose screws — just his doubters.
“I can play football,” Louritt said. “I don’t need to be behind a camera sitting on the sidelines, and now I’m not.”
And he wasn’t about to go back to it.
Through one and a half quarters against Rocky Ford, Louritt was down on himself. Defenders were running past him, around him and through him. Neither the pass nor run game was working, Linenberger said.
“I said, ‘Nikolai, do you need to come out?’” Linenberger said. “He looked at me and said, ‘No I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it.’”
The following play, Louritt knocked back his defender and opened a hole for his running back on the next.
His proud quarterback said, “He didn’t let one person by him the rest of the game.”
And for a kid who wasn’t bound for the field, or bound to even to grow up with parents, it’s been almost like someone’s been looking out for Nikolai …
Writing his fairy tale story along the way.