Decatur High player defies odds, returns from injury

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by TED MADDEN

WFAA

Posted on September 16, 2012 at 10:40 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 18 at 10:49 AM

Part I

"He had come out of the game earlier, playing defense, just on fire," said Shayler Carlton, a lineman for Decatur High School. "Killed a kid on a play."

It was game two of the 2011 football season. Decatur was on its way to beating Gainesville, and the coach's kid, Tyler Story, was having a big game.

"It can just happen so fast; my best friend is out, just like that," said Nick Martin, another lineman. "He was having the game of his life and all the sudden it's over."

It ended on a six-yard completion, and a fluke tackle that ruined Tyler's knee. Just as he planted his right foot, just as he put all his weight on his right leg, the defender hit Tyler squarely in the knee.

"It was heartbreaking because ever since he was two years old and really able to fully understand what football is, his dream has been to play for his daddy," said Teena Story, Tyler's mom and the coach's wife. "And that was what was so hard for me -- to see that that dream had been crushed."

Tyler's season was over, and although no one knew it at the time, there was a 50-50 chance he would never walk again.

Part II

"There's five scars on the leg," Tyler said as he pointed them out, one by one. "There's this one right here, that was a fasciotomy, and it was a big one it opened up like a big football."

A few days after the injury, Tyler needed emergency surgery. The main artery taking blood to his lower leg had been severed, and unless it was fixed right away, doctors would have to amputate.

"He hyper-extended his knee, which means that all the ligaments — the capsule and all the ligaments near the back — start tearing," said Dr. Daniel Cooper, Tyler's doctor, who also happens to be the Dallas Cowboys team doctor. "And then he dislocated his knee completely, where the leg bone bayonets on the thigh bone."

The surgery to save Tyler's leg left him bedridden for five months.

"And literally, he laid right here, for that long," said his mother, standing over Tyler's bed. "He would get up and move to the other room every once in a while but could not get comfortable, so he would be right back in here."

"I played a lot of Xbox," said Tyler with a laugh. "I got a bunch of Xbox games when I got hurt knowing that I'd be doing that for a while."

After a pair of fasciotomies to relieve pressure in his leg from swelling, and after skin-graft surgeries, Tyler still needed major reconstructive surgery on his knee.

"They had to fix my ACL right here," said Tyler, pointing at his knee, "which they did with my patella tendon. My LCL, all of this out here was shredded, it was just gone. They used part of my hamstring to fix that and screwed it into some bone during the knee surgery."

"They understand from the very beginning that you're trying to save their leg, number one, and then you're trying to give them a leg they can use for the rest of their life," said Dr. Cooper. "And after that, whatever you get is gravy."

Part III

"When you're 17-18 years old, you think that playing football or basketball as a senior in high school is all there is to life."

Kyle Story has been coaching long enough to know how important a player's senior year is to him. And he knew it was no different for his son, who was determined to come back and play in his.

"I wanted to play football," said Tyler. "That's what I always wanted to do. I wanted to play football again because that's just what I'd done ever since I was a little kid."

Tyler was a little kid when his family moved to Decatur 13 years ago. Tyler grew up on Decatur football, watching his dad coach the Eagles.

"I'd come home from practice at night, and whatever season it was he's be there tossing the ball up in the air, 'Dad it's time to play football, or dad it's time to play basketball or baseball,' whatever happened to be the season," said coach Story. "I'd come dragging in and worn out after a long day at work, and it was always fun to go out and play catch with him or do whatever he wanted to do."

So Tyler worked harder than he knew he could. Decatur's athletic trainer Fernando Escobar figured out a tape job to hold his foot in place -- Tyler suffers from drop foot and still doesn't have all the feeling back. He wears a brace every day just for walking around to prevent his foot from flopping.

On August 31st, Tyler returned to the field for the first time, but only as the holder on field goals and extra points. Decatur's second game of the season, in Springtown, would be his first real game back.

"It's just unbelievable that I'm able to play again after all I've been through," said Tyler. "Nobody thought I would ever play again, including myself."

Part IV

In the locker room just before kickoff, head coach Kyle Story addressed his team: "This week is a whole different story. A whole different story."

And it was a different story. Tyler Story, for the first time in a year and five days, was playing football again.

His mom Teena walked to her seat in the visitor bleachers, holding a napkin for the tears as kickoff approached. She was surrounded by family and friends as Tyler took the field for the first time, as a blocking tight end. His first play was unexciting, uneventful: a handoff to the running back away from Tyler's side of the field. But it was the culmination of the longest year of his life.

"He didn't have to prove anything to us but he wanted to prove to himself that he could, and he's done it," said his friend and teammate Shaylor Carlton. "That's it. If he plays one snap tonight, that's good enough for anybody, should be."

"I finally get to play with my best friend again," said Nick Martin, who has played with Tyler since they were both in pee-wee. "It's been a long time and this is how I want to finish my senior season, playing with all my friends. And I'm glad he gets to be out there with me."

Throughout the game, Tyler blocked on running plays, a few times ending up on the turf. His dad called a play near the goal line to try and get him a touchdown pass, but it was incomplete. This game didn't provide a story book ending — Tyler didn't catch a pass, and Decatur lost the game — but then again, this really isn't the end of his story. It's just the beginning.

"I'm very happy for him — he's worked so hard for this," said his sister Shay, who is a sophomore at Stephen F. Austin and came back for the game. "He was a little slower than normal, than he was last year. He looked good to me."

“I’ve been wanting to hit someone for a year,” said Tyler after the game. “It was a little harder getting back used to it. I adjusted well and we got after it.”

“He's never once said, Why did this happen to me, I can't believe this happened to me,” said his mom, Teena. “He's never been fearful; he hasn't been scared. He's taught me a lot. I mean he's my hero from the way he's handled this.”

Tyler's story has a lot of chapters left, he's only 18 years old, but playing football his senior year in high school — that will be a chapter he always remembers.

E-mail tmadden@wfaa.com

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