Judah Varfley had seen enough. He was injured, hence he couldn’t practice with his Central High football teammates.
As much as he wanted to support their efforts, Varfley was a football player – not a spectator.
“I couldn’t sit there and watch everyone do something without me,” said Varfley. “Sometimes, I would just have to leave. I had to be patient but it was hard.”
You too would be frustrated if you had walked in Varfley’s shoes – an electric talent beset by injuries for the longest time. In 2019, he sustained a shoulder injury the sidelined him for three games during his sophomore season with the Knights. During the 2021 “Fall II” season opener against Chariho, Varfley tore his lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and sprained the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
After six weeks of intense rehab that helped create enough stability around his calves and quads, Varfley returned for Central’s two-game Division I playoff run that culminated with a 13-12 win over East Greenwich in the Super Bowl. In an effort to protect his health and at the same time maximize his ability, the Central coaches decided to limit Varfley to duty on only one side of the ball by lining him up at defensive back.
The thrill of winning the D-I title gave way to surgery that could not be put off any longer. More rest and rehab were prescribed for someone who knows how to get from Point A to Point B in a hurry, witnessed by Varfley finishing second in the 55-meter dash at the 2021 RIIL Boys’ Indoor State Track Championships.
Judah Varfley just put on a clinic on how to run a 2-minute offense. This run closes the drive, he runs it in for 2 and gets Central up 22-14 with 10 seconds left in the half. pic.twitter.com/YM4sAfdhrc
— Eric Rueb (@EricRueb) November 21, 2021
It wasn’t that Varfley disliked football – far from it in fact. Given all he’s endured, you too would be a bit leery to play your senior high school football season, especially when the aforementioned abilities as a sprinter held the key to unlocking the door marked “college.”
“I hadn’t had a healthy football season since 2017,” said Varfley, referring to his pre-Central days with the Northend Seahawks, a Providence-based youth football program. “One time, I broke my leg and couldn’t play in the Super Bowl [with the Seahawks].”
To the everlasting credit of first-year Central head coach Mike Washington, a former standout with the Knights who served as an assistant coach at his alma mater before taking the HC reins from Peter Rios, Varfley learned a valuable lesson. It’s okay to take what the defense gives you. If that happens to be enough for a first down, recognize the coverage and move on to the next snap. If the opportunity to get out of harm’s way presents itself before the defense closes in, don’t think twice. Just take the open avenue.
“Now I know what to avoid … just go out of bounds,” said Varfley.
Noted Washington, “Him being okay with 10 yards has paid dividends. It’s been about decreasing those odds and possibilities of getting hurt.”
By helping to change Varfley’s outlook, the belief that his head coach had carried around for the longest time regarding the youngster’s true potential has – at long last – been unlocked. Not only has Varfley avoided countless defenders, he’s also been the picture of perfect health since returning to the lineup in early October. Since then, he hasn’t missed a practice or a game for a Central program that, come Saturday afternoon at 3:30, will bid to make it two straight D-I Super Bowls.
WATCH: Judah Varfley has Central on the doorstep on its 2nd straight D1 title.
— Morey Hershgordon (@MHershgordon) November 9, 2021
“I don’t think I would have played this football season without Coach Mike. I was so scared of injuries so the motivation wasn’t there,” said Varfley. “I’m glad I did because we’ve been able to accomplish so much.”
“Tough kid, but the relationship works because I was once in his shoes. When he was down in the dumps and told me that he was thinking about not playing … knowing where he’s coming from helps in explaining how it goes,” said Washington. “Dating back to his sophomore year, I always knew he was the one.”
A 2012 graduate of Central, Washington suffered his fair share of injuries on the football field. The mind is willing but the body is sending out alarm responses to proceed with caution. If there’s anyone who could relate to the trials and tribulations experienced by Varfley, look no further than his head coach.
“I played in a [RIIL] Super Bowl with two dislocated shoulders and a groin strain,” said Washington. “That’s why I made sure to walk step-by-step with Judah, promising him that he would be fine. It was about giving him reassurance that he was still the one. The only thing that changed was that he got hurt.”
Just when Varfley was getting his football legs underneath him, he found himself once again on the move. Out of necessity due to changes in personnel, Washington moved his star runner to quarterback. Central relies on a run-heavy offensive attack, yet the question remained on who would serve as the primary ball handler.
Enter Varfley, who perked up upon learning he would be lining up under center and having more of a take-charge role. In some ways, taking over the QB controls helped to lessen the strain of waiting for something to go awry on the injury front.
“It was a new deal for him, but I absolutely knew he could do it,” said Washington. “He’s been my most coachable kid.”
All the pieces came together the Saturday before Thanksgiving when Varfley was the perfect blend of elusiveness and efficiency. With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, he blazed his way to 252 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He also demonstrated that he’s more than capable of making something happen with his arm. Right before halftime of Central’s eventual 37-20 win over South Kingstown, Varfley uncorked a deep pass over the middle that was complete and helped set up a touchdown.
“He’s playing more efficiently,” said Washington. “He realized he had to switch up his style in order to be healthy. You don’t need the home run plays every single time.”
Are you ready for some football? Just two days away from the @RIIL_sports Division I Superbowl with our own @CentralHSPvd Knights lining up against North Kingstown HS at Cranston Stadium on Dec. 4, 3:30pm. Cheer them on for the win and get your tickets at https://t.co/ekqCkHUyiq pic.twitter.com/QRsqATYw01
— Providence Schools (@pvdschools) December 2, 2021
The eye-popping performance against South Kingstown was everything and more of what Washington believed was in store for Varfley once upon a time. If there were any lingering doubts about a football player who possesses all the tools but has the unfortunate knack of getting hurt frequently, they were laid to rest in a got-to-have-it contest.
“A lot. I had to watch it,” Varfley replied with a smile when asked if he’s viewed the game film from the SK game that doubled as a personal highlight reel.
How’s that for being receptive to coaching in the name of a senior season to savor.
“All the injuries, they can take their toll on you,” said Washington. “To see him rise above it all, it’s a proud moment to witness as his coach.”
And for a fall/winter update on the RIIL, Stone Freeman interviewed RIIL Executive Director Mike Lunney…