It was 16 years ago this week — Oct. 3, 2002. Clemson was playing Florida State in Tallahassee. My son was playing left guard for the Tigers. It was midway through the second quarter, and Clemson was leading.
Suddenly, play stopped. A player was down. As I had done a hundred times before, I looked for Nick to be among those standing. He wasn’t. It was my son that was down.
I saw one of the student trainers run to the sideline where she retrieved a vacuum splint, the device used when you have a broken bone. I turned to my wife and said, “Nick broke his leg.” I started for the locker room where I knew they would take him, but his offensive line coach caught my attention and motioned for me to come down to the sidelines.
I scrambled down the wall in front of the bleachers where we had been sitting and walked to the sidelines where I stood with Nick’s coach. I saw that same student trainer, Amy Body, who was a friend of Nick’s, walk toward the part of the stands where the parents were sitting. She saw me on the sidelines and took a sharp left toward me.
“Danny wants you on the field.”
Danny Poole was the athletic trainer for Clemson (still is). He was tending to Nick’s injury and had the foresight and compassion to send for me. He and I knew each other as fellow athletic trainers as well so we usually had a lot to talk about when we got together.
So when I got out onto the field, I didn’t go immediately to Nick. I went to Danny. I asked Danny if he really wanted me out there. He replied, “your son needs you right now.” The game was an ESPN Thursday night game and that’s what you saw if you were watching on TV. The injury was bad. He had shattered the tibia and fibula in his right lower leg. Remember the Joe Theismann injury? That’s what it was. It’s all on video. Neither of us have ever seen it. Never will.
What a lot of people saw on the TV was me picking up my 300 pound son and putting him on the cart to be wheeled away. I was blessed to join him on that cart and then on the plane ride back to South Carolina for surgery the next morning. That’s my part of the story. The rest belongs to Nick.
He graduated that semester, hobbling across the stage to receive his diploma. He never played football again, but coach Tommy Bowden kept him on scholarship and arranged for him to get into the non-traditional MBA program. So he got two degrees from his football scholarship.
He went on to law school at UT, married a wonderful girl, and now has two awesome kids. He’s a lawyer in Maryville and on the Maryville City School Board. He coaches youth sports.
Would he have changed anything? Oh heck yes. Nobody wants to go through what he went through. Does he regret sports? Not for a minute. I asked him once if he would play football again. He quickly said yes. He actually coached at MHS for three years and would do it again if he had the time. He loves the game of football.
Have sports and football contributed greatly to the life he has had? Undoubtedly.
Have they helped make him the man that he is today? Absolutely. Has that horrible moment in time helped him become a better person? I believe it has. I believe he learned how to deal with adversity and hardship. I believe he learned how dreams change. I believe he learned what hard work really means.
I really like the person that Nick is today, and I look forward to observing the life he is leading. Although we remain close and he allows me into his world on a regular basis, he is his own man. I respect that. He’s the son every man should have.
I believe that everything that happens to us, good or bad, helps to make us the person that we are.