Comeback Season

After days in the ICU, weeks in the hospital and months away from athletics, junior Colin Neuhoff is getting back on the field.

After a spleen injury ended his football season and kept him from wrestling in even a single tournament, Neuhoff is ready to make his return.

In the middle of the third quarter of a high school football game, there isn’t a lot of time to make decisions. But for junior Colin Neuhoff, there really isn’t a decision to make.

It’s ESD. He’s the starting quarterback. He has to go back in. Go back in for the team, the school, his own pride.

Two plays before, Neuhoff had been sandwiched between the knee of one ESD defender and the bodies of two others.

“I just got the wind knocked out of me,” he thinks, his heart pumping, his shoulders rising and falling with heavy, somewhat labored breaths.

So he puts the helmet back on. Snaps the chinstrap into place. And still with that splitting pain in his side, he’s back in.

Less than half an hour later, with the game still going on at school, Neuhoff is in the passenger seat of his dad’s car on the way to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. Faster than waiting for an ambulance. He can’t wait too long. Athletic trainer Matt Hjertstedt’s best guess on the sidelines had been a ruptured spleen.

He was right.

•••

That night began a weeklong stay in the hospital and a nearly three-month recovery process for Neuhoff, a process that would end his football season and prevent him from wrestling even a single match throughout the entire winter season. The biggest pain, however, came the night of the game.

“Having to walk off really hurt,” Neuhoff said. “I mean it actually hurt, but it hurt because I wanted to play so bad.”

Neuhoff, however, didn’t walk off until after he had gone back in to play for nearly an entire quarter before breathing became too difficult to keep playing. For varsity football head coach Bart Epperson, that moment sticks out above the others.

“That just speaks volumes of who he is and what he's done all year long on putting the team first,” Epperson said. “He felt, at the time, that he could go back in and compete at an extremely high level, and he did and threw a touchdown. That's just a fierce competitor. I mean, that's just someone that's going to give everything they possibly have for the betterment of the team.”

For Neuhoff, the few days after the injury were a blur, filled with visits from family and friends, dozens of texts and phone calls from friends and family and gift bags and cards that came in by the armload.

“All of that stuff really helped,” Neuhoff said. “Just knowing they were praying for me or looking out for me. But after that dies down, after the first week or two, everyone was still supporting me, but at that point you just have to wait it out yourself.”

Neuhoff went into those three months expecting to catch up on school and rest, but he faced a very different reality without athletics, a staple of his life for as long as he can remember.

“I started to miss the day-to-day practice and workload,” Neuhoff said. “It’s something that, especially as an athlete here, sometimes it can get a little tough, repetitive, hard to keep on schedule. But I found myself missing having a two-hour practice and going home and having to do your homework right then. I really liked that set schedule. I just had too much time. It was as simple as that.”

During his time away from athletics, Neuhoff found himself with a lot of time to think. About that night. About those three months. About the future.

“Well, for one thing, I learned what a spleen is,” Neuhoff said with a wry smile. “Secondly, really just to not take your time in high school for granted, especially when you’re playing with your guys, whether that’s in wrestling or football or whatever it may be. Any sport, there’s nothing like it. It’s something special.”

Despite the ups and downs of the past few months Colin’s father Brian Neuhoff is ready to see Colin back on the field.

“We know that Colin will be fully prepared, mentally and physically, for football next year,” Brian said. “He will be wearing a rib protector though.”

Colin plans to attack summer workouts, practices and games just like he always has, never losing the mentality he played with before his injury.

“I think it may still be in the back of my mind,” Colin said, “but I’m not going to approach next season any differently. I’m going to go out there and play my game.”