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Myrtle Beach's Ryan Burger and Luke Doty celebrate the win over Airport as the Seahawks advance to the fourth round of the playoffs. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

COLUMBIA | Out of habit, Luke Doty kept putting his hand in his pocket, covering up the surgical scar on his right hand.

He was a little less tentative standing in the University of South Carolina football practice facility in the shadows of Williams-Brice Stadium hours before the state title game. But after weeks of questions and uncertainty, he was finally able to open up with definitive answers.

His high school career was over.

Doty, the talented Myrtle Beach quarterback, was not cleared by doctors prior to Saturday’s Class 4A championship appearance against Wren. It meant that his final game in Seahawk colors was going to be spent as a de facto assistant coach.

“I really haven’t had one of those moments,” Doty said, referring to frustration over the injury. “I’m thankful that it really was just a thumb and that it wasn’t anything more serious. I’m thankful that I’m still able to contribute, really help a lot of these other guys along the way. I’ve been in this position before last year.”

Doty suffered an injury to his throwing hand against Lakewood in the playoff opener. Three days later, doctors found a small fracture in his thumb, and the next day he underwent surgery to repair it.

The surgery and treatment was conducted with long-term health in mind, something where his high-profile status as a University of South Carolina verbal commitment surely wasn’t overlooked.

Still, until Friday, Myrtle Beach coach Mickey Wilson was holding out hope that Doty could get back on the field and finish what he started long ago.

“Early on, we just didn’t know anything,” Wilson said. “We knew he was going to be out. But we didn’t know the extent and when he would recover. We got to a point we felt like he we were going to get him back on the field in some capacity. In the end, that just didn’t work. That’s football. I hate it for him.”

Doty threw for 1,874 yards and 25 touchdowns and ran for another 408 yards and four touchdowns this season in what amounted to fewer than 10 full games. Almost immediately after initially suffering the injury — and ever since — he has served as counsel to back-up quarterback Ryan Burger, a talented but inexperienced player who was asked to help steer the Seahawks back to Columbia. Burger has done relatively well given the circumstances, amassing 900 yards and nine touchdowns, most of which came in the postseason.

And many of those yards and touchdowns came with Doty in the sophomore’s ear before or after.

“He was playing so well leading up to this,” Wilson said. “But when you feel that disappointment, the thing that sort of makes it OK is you see Luke and see the way he’s handled it. It’s been amazing. He’s continued to be a great leader for our team. Not one time did I see him look down or get down or pout or anything like that. He’s been upbeat as ever.

“Looking at him and the way he’s handled it, it makes you appreciate him even more as a player.”

Doty, who earlier this week withdrew from the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, will graduate later this month and enroll at USC. He is expected to make a full recovery within months and should be ready for the start of spring practices.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that one of the nation’s top prep quarterbacks will end his high school career on the sideline. Doty is attempting to not look at it like that.

“I feel like I’m pretty much in the same space I was when I went down,” he said. “It’s a next man up mentality. Ryan’s done a great job for us this postseason. It’s really been fun kind of coaching him up and helping him along through this process as we got deeper in the postseason and where we are today. I’m just glad I’ve been there to help him along.”

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