Just like thousands of other venues in America on a Friday night, September 5 was a great setting for high school football at Raptor Stadium in Brentwood, Tennessee. Our team had just come off a huge win the week before, knocking off powerhouse Brentwood Academy, which was ranked #10 in the country by USA Today at game time. We were the first team in Williamson County to do so in 31 years. Ever. My son, Bo, caught the winning score with 12 seconds to go. He had 12 tackles, an acrobatic interception, and a couple of huge receptions. Football recruiting letters had been flowing in all year, but that next week they had overflowed the mailbox with requests for BA game film.
You could just feel it in the air. The Raptors were poised to post another upset against undefeated Franklin High and reassert our status as one of the top teams in the state.
We tailgated with our RHS Quarterback Club friends. We got to our seats early and watched he band march in. Right before the National Anthem, Bo strode to the middle of the field with three teammates for the coin flip. The game got underway. We groaned when Franklin took an early lead on a long touchdown run but we weren’t worried. No big biggie. The Raptor team and coaches had sky-high confidence and so did the fans.
It was our second drive. A simple bubble screen. QB Alex Williams pivoted and threw a pass to Bo who set up just a few yards behind the line of scrimmage out wide. He went up in the air to snag the catch and the instant he landed, the cornerback who had read the play instantly and was running full speed hit him. Now this is my ninth year to watch Bo play football – might have missed one game in all those years but not more than one – and I know this about him. Bo isn’t into personal drama out in public … and he’s never stayed down after a play in football. But he stayed down.
I do like a bit of drama but I knew he would hate it if we made a scene and rushed down to the sideline so Amy and I just stayed in our seats. I knew he was hurt but didn’t want to speculate how bad. When they stood him up about a minute later and helped him to the sideline and he could put zero weight on his right leg I still kept saying to myself it was all going to be okay and he’d be back in the game soon. When the trainer got word up to me that I needed to get my butt down there, I finally started the internal negotiation process that the injury might be real bad. I reached him on the sideline where the team doctor and trainer let me know that Bo might have a torn ACL and MCL. Pretty horrific news for an athlete with the desire to play college football or continue his track career. They got him on the cart as an ambulance was backed up to the front gate. The raucous stadium got eerily quiet. I gave Bo’s hand a quick squeeze and he held on. That’s when I knew he was really hurt. Holding hands with his dad in front of a couple thousand friends isn’t his style.
He and I cried our guts out on an ambulance ride to Williamson County Medical Center. The staff from the front desk to nurses and doctors were wonderful. We were still operating under the assumption that his knee was torn up and the first relatively good news was that the MRI technician was still in the hospital and we could get the damage assessed that night rather than having to wait until Monday. It was two hours after the accident that we began to move him from his bed in the ER to another that would take him back to the MRI room for tests. Halfway from one bed to another his upper leg went a couple different directions at once and started spasming. He had been in a bit of a stupor but he was suddenly wide awake and in intense pain – no pain killers had been administered yet. Morgan, his girlfriend, had left the game and was holding his hand when this happened and he gave her a hard enough squeeze that between that and the sight of his leg moving in ways a leg should not move she about passed out. The nurse looked at the doctor right then and said quite definitively that Bo hadn’t torn his ACL but had a broken femur. Staff rushed a portable X-Ray machine into the room and within 15 minutes she was proven right. We’ve adopted her as part of Raptor Nation for that and all the other kindnesses she showed.
You know it’s a rough night when a broken leg is good news but it was a rough night and so the news was good. A clean break. A rod would be inserted the next morning. Full recovery – stronger than ever – the prognosis.
Ravenwood students and players had begun gathering in the waiting room and with a mercifully slow night in the ER they were allowed to come back and be with Bo. I think we had at least fifty or sixty kids gathered around him at one point. Steven, one of his best friends, just couldn’t bear to be close. He hung back with head and eyes downcast. But Ricky, ever emotional, started sobbing. He was joined by Will, a 270-pound right tackle. Will and Ryan never stopped crying. I had but couldn’t not start back up. Then it was mom and grandparents and the cheerleaders. Then it was the coaching staff. We started and stopped crying too many times to count over the next three or four hours. Franklin’s coach stayed in touch with Coach Rector to let him know his boys felt terrible for Bo and had gathered to pray for him after the game. My blackberry never stopped vibrating with texts and calls flying in from all over the country as word got out.
The Saturday surgery went smoothly and was deemed a success. Ravenwood High School set up residence at WCMC. At one point we learned he had been admitted as “anonymous” so we went down to let them know that it was okay to identify him by name and allow people to come up and see him. “Don’t worry, every body’s found him” was the reply. Bo didn’t go to school the next week. His hospital room and then our living room, his new convalescent center, looked like Christmas in September with a slew of presents and cards. College coaches called to let him know he was still being recruited. Neighbors, teachers, friends, Young Life leaders … all came by to wish him well and many to say a prayer with him.
Last night was four weeks from the accident. He drove to school for the first time earlier that day. He got rid of his crutches completely two days earlier. He’s doing his therapy and lifting upper body weights five days a week. Subsequent X-Rays show the unmistakable image of a knee-to-hip rod, but you have to look hard to find the line where the complete break occurred.
I already knew that high school football wasn’t really about football. At least not just about football. But if I’ve ever forgotten that while caught up in the spirit of competition, I’ll not forget it again.
Student council isn’t about running schools but teaching leadership. Scouting isn’t about camp outs but learning responsibility. And football isn’t about touchdowns and tackles but discipline, teamwork, loyalty, overcoming adversity, and being there to cry with a friend who is down.
I’d still rather Bo be playing on the field his senior season but I’m grateful to watch him on the sidelines with his teammates, as big a part of his team as ever. Because football isn’t just about football.