KASSON — Colin Sherden bent over to pick up the football after a low snap, took a hard hit to the top of his head, then got up and went back to the huddle.
That's just what quarterbacks do.
"I remember getting back up to my feet and I was going to call the next play," Sherden said. "Then the coaches saw I was stumbling all over the place, so they called a timeout."
Sherden walked off the field under his own power, but as soon as athletic trainers did a concussion test, then realized Sherden's heart rate had slowed significantly, an ambulance was called to the field at Byron High School.
Hours later, Sherden and his family went from wondering when he could play football and hockey again to wondering if he might walk again. Sherden took a hard blow to the top of his head that night — Friday, Sept. 13, 2013 (yes, a Friday the 13th) — and suffered a fractured C3 vertebrae, a ruptured disc and a torn spinal ligament.
He underwent a successful surgery to remove the ruptured disc, but doctors told him he would never play contact sports again.
"I remember taking the elevator ride up to see him," said Dodge County boys hockey coach Eric Hofmann, one of Sherden's first visitors at Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Marys Campus. "I wasn't sure what I would say or how it would go. As soon as I walked in his room, he just said 'hey, coach,' just like normal.
"Here's this kid with a big mark running along his neck, you know he's been through hell ... but there was no negativity. We didn't talk about sports, just life. He was always looking for the positives."
Sherden was determined to prove doctors wrong. A week after his surgery, he was doing homework and back in school with his friends. A month later, he was back in the weight room, albeit on a restricted lifting program.
He still has a metal plate and four screws securing his vertebrae.
Through it all, he found a different perspective on being able to play the sports he loves.
"Now I look back at it as probably the best thing to ever happen to me," said Sherden, now a senior captain for the Dodge County hockey team, which opens play in the Kiwanis/Home Federal Festival at Graham Arena in Rochester on Monday. "Physically, it wasn't the best thing, but it was just what you can learn about life when you go through something like that.
"The thing I missed most was just being with the team. Playing sports is awesome, but just being around the guys is what I missed most."
Sherden spent the rest of the 2013-14 school year watching Byron football games and Dodge County hockey games from the stands. He never missed a Wildcats hockey practice or game and became, essentially, another assistant coach.
He continued to attack his rehabilitation routine, with his sights set on playing football and hockey as a senior.
He returned to the football field in August and quarterbacked Byron all the way to the Section 1AAAA semifinals. He passed perhaps his biggest mental hurdle early in training camp. The Bears' first scrimmage was against Plainview-Elgin-Millville, the team against which Sherden suffered his injury nearly a year earlier.
"I got hit on the first play of that scrimmage and that's all it took," Sherden said. "I was back into it."
Now Sherden hopes to help Dodge County (3-7-0) make some noise at the Kiwanis Festival, where it has never won a first-round game.
"This team is really close," he said. "We all hang out together and have fun, there are no cliques, which would be easy when you have eight different schools in one co-op. Coach has talked all year about working hard and having a good attitude. That's really starting to catch on."
Sherden said he hopes to follow in Hofmann's skates some day and become a coach.
"He's inspiring and a natural motivator," Hofmann said. "He has that ability to motivate the guys around him, especially now with his own experiences.
"On top of that, his priorities are straight when it comes to life, family, relationships. He really has his head on straight."
Tag(s): Dodge County