2013 NPT PHOTO BY CHRIS TAYLOR
Friday, September 27, 2013Author: Seth Butler
(Last modified: 2013-09-27 23:16:28)
Source: The Newport Plain Talk
On the surface, it appeared to be an innocuous play, in a runaway football game. Five weeks ago, Gatlinburg-Pittman held a commanding lead in the second half over Cocke County High School. After the Highlanders jumped on the Fighting Cocks early, it appeared as if the two teams were content on trying to run out the clock. Instead, the clock was running out on Clint Ramseyβs football career.
Football is a way of life for Clint Ramsey. And why not? Since his earliest days, the Cocke County High School standout has been heavily involved in the sport.
At the age of five, he donned a Newport Roosters jersey and spent his younger years involved in football there. Ramsey was also a standout for the Cocke County Middle School team and was poised to break out for his junior season at CCHS this year.
But like many other things in life, that didn't turn out the way it was expected to.
Standing in the Cocke County High School locker room minutes before the team's home opener with Carter High School on August 29, Ramsey stood before the team.
He gave them a passionate speech about how the team, which was a heavy underdog to the Hornets squad, about how they couldn't take a play off.
"I said go out there and don't take a second off, don't take a play off, don't take a down off, or don't take a game off," Ramsey said. "Because you could be like me and be standing on the sidelines for good."
It was six nights earlier on a muggy, foggy night down in the bowl at Hammonds Stadium, when the Highlanders faced a second down play on their first possession of the second half. Ramsey was playing one of the best games of his high school career.
At halftime, the junior had a pair of receptions on offense; he also had a team high 5.5 tackles headed into the third quarter.
Despite trailing the Highlanders by 27 points, the Fighting Cocks defense had their opponents scouted pretty well.
Senior quarterback Tanner Cox checked off at the line of scrimmage, took the snap and dropped back to pass. He hit fullback Spencer Brien with the pass and Cocke County had it read well. Despite the well-played defense, Brien broke a couple of tackles and rambled down field 18 yards.
"I was sitting back there at safety and made my reads, once they snapped the ball, I saw the full back come out in the flats," Ramsey said. "I knew that's where he was going right then and I went on a bee-line down there."
A pair of Cocke County High School defensive backs, including Ramsey, converged on the ball carrier. Ryder Keedwell took Brien out up top, Ramsey went low.
"I hit him in the legs and my helmet came off," Ramsey said. "I just remember laying there and somebody was checking on me and I was hurting bad."
Two players got up, one did not.
Despite the innocent nature of the play, it became the play that would transform Clint Ramsey's life. Another play in another game, where the Cocke County High School junior made his team-high seventh tackle of the game.
Only this time, it would be the last play that Ramsey would ever make on a football field.
When Ramsey went low, his helmet - just as many did on that fateful August night, popped off when he made contact. Instead of having that shield of protection around his head, it was now gone. As
Ramsey made that last tackle, Brien's knee makes contact with his head, which then bounced off the newly installed artificial surface.
Still, however, the whole situation seemed innocent enough.
"I started to get up, I really did," Ramsey said. "But then I looked at Ryder and was like, 'Oh dang', and laid back down.
"I knew I couldn't get back up after that, I felt like death."
Ramsey had been here before. In his eleventh year of playing football, the 5-foot-10, 160-pound player has suffered seven concussions. Despite knowing it might have been the worst one yet, it was still under the impression that it was just another hard blow.
"I've took some hard hits, and given some hard hits, and I normally just get right back up, even if my head is ringing," Ramsey said.
Only this time, Ramsey didn't get up.
Gatlinburg-Pittman trainer Scott Byrd was on the scene in seconds, working with the fallen CCHS junior. Soon, a cart was called to take Ramsey to an awaiting ambulance.
"I knew I was in a lot of pain, but I was ready to be off that cart as soon as they put me on it," Ramsey said. "I was really wanting to go back in (the game), bad. I was more worried about the game, than I was about myself."
Even though it looked serious, indications were it was just another concussion.
"(Byrd) told me this was going to be the scariest moment of my life, but it was just precautionary," Ramsey said. "So I really didn't think there was anything wrong, except for getting my bell rung pretty good."
As the final seconds slipped away back at Hammonds Stadium, the Highlanders proved victorious by a 34-0 margin. The two teams shook hands, and Cocke County coach Caleb Slover told the media that it appeared as if Ramsey had sustained a concussion and the maneuvers to take him from the field were just precautionary.
Miles away at Leconte Medical Center in Sevierville, it was becoming apparent to the Ramsey family that this was not just another concussion. A CT scan of Ramsey's brain revealed the severity of the situation.
Doctors revealed that there was a small bleeding bruise on Ramsey's brain. Any questions of where his football career was headed quickly became an afterthought as they prepared him for a transport to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville.
"When he told me that, I was more scared about the bruise on my brain, than not playing," said Ramsey of his initial reaction to the first news that his football career was likely over. "When I got to UT, I just shut my eyes and acted like I was asleep, because I wanted mom to listen to it all.
"I knew what they were about to say, so I just shut my eyes."
Early that Saturday morning, doctors at UT confirmed the original diagnosis made at Leconte Medical Center. In one instant, in that last tackle, Ramsey's playing career was over.
"I was devastated," Ramsey said. "It tore my heart out."
Later that weekend, Ramsey began two of the roughest parts of the entire ordeal he's experienced in the past 35 days: Informing his coaches and players that he would be unable to suit up for the Fighting Cocks again.
On Sunday evening, Ramsey visited with his coaches.
"That was miserable," Ramsey said. "It really felt like I was telling somebody that someone just died."
Even though he had only been the head coach of the program since February, Slover was as emotional as anyone in the room.
"Everybody in there cried - coach (Ben) James was crying, both coach (Mike and Steven) Neases were crying and coach Slover cried about as much as I did," Ramsey said. "It was sad."
One day later, Ramsey was informing his fellow teammates of the news. It was just as an emotional scene in the Cocke County locker room.
Notifying his teammates of the news was one of the hardest things he's ever done, more specifically because among those teammates, are his best friends. As Ramsey described what the doctors had told him over the weekend, the tears began to flow from the eyes of fellow classmates Samuel Hooper and Blake Gentry. Ramsey has played with both for a number of years.
"I looked at those two and they were crying and I couldn't hold it," Ramsey said. "We have gotten really close; I love everybody (in the locker room), but those are two special people."
The love of the teammates and the support shown to Ramsey over those six days did little to remove the pain of game day. The first trip back onto the gridiron for Cocke County after Ramsey's injury was the team's home opener against Carter High School.
Despite being a Thursday night game, the usual packed crowd at Larry Williams Stadium had formed.
However, despite all the excitement outside the locker room for the game, it was about the worst type of night for Ramsey.
"I sat there before the game, in the corner, with my head down and I cried for an hour," Ramsey said. "The other guys were there with their headphones on, but I just sat there and cried, I think I covered my shirt in tears."
That night, Cocke County High School was in a spirited first half with Knox Carter. The Fighting Cocks trailed 14-0 despite committing five first half turnovers.
A red clad number six uniform was not able to make plays on the field; he instead was roaming the sidelines, encouraging teammates, who had a number six sticker on their helmets.
"On the sidelines, I'm clapping and cheering," Ramsey said. "I try to motivate them and keep their spirits up.
"Some of them, when I notice they want to put their heads down, I won't let them," Ramsey said.
"When I gave that speech before the game, I told them I if I saw one of them laying down, I'd put my foot up their hind end."
Why? It's the way Ramsey played the game.
"I told them I'd do that, because I'm not going to watch it," Ramsey said. "Because they know I would never lay down."
Through the whole ordeal, laying down has never been an option for the Cocke County High School junior. Though not the biggest player during his career, many others said he had the biggest heart on the field.
Playing his hardest wasn't about making the most highlights, or the most headlines, or even scoring the most touchdowns, it was about learning the life lessons the game has taught.
"Yeah, I go out there and perform and try to give God the glory," Ramsey said. "But success to me wasn't how many touchdowns I scored, or how many passes I caught or how many tackles I made.
"Football has taught me no matter how many times you get knocked down, when you stand up, that's when your successful," Ramsey said.
That has been one of the main things Ramsey has stressed to his teammates since his injury. He has been a constant presence at practices, junior varsity games and on the sidelines with the team each of the past five Friday nights.
"I'm trying to be positive for those guys, but it is hard," Ramsey said. "I'd like them to realize (that you've got to get back up to be successful).
"It's nice to win, it's nice to win championships, but it's a sport," Ramsey said. "I think life is more important. I've learned a lot about life from football, and I hope (my teammates) are doing the same thing."
Since that injury a month ago, Ramsey has had numerous appointments, but in the most recent earlier this week, he was given an almost clean bill of health by his doctors. The bruise on his brain is gone and recent scans show everything appears to be normal.
Throughout the process, Ramsey said he's been overwhelmed by the support shown to him and his family - including his mom, Melissa, his father, Padey and his sister Paige.
"I didn't know I was so loved until this happened," Ramsey said. "There was a woman from Cosby who was working that night at the hospital and she checked on me.
"Everybody - not just people from Cocke County - have been checking on me," Ramsey said. "It's just been unreal."
Even while his dream of continuing to suit up and play the sport he dearly loves, he hopes his story has been able to inspire someone.
"I hope that, even if it's just one person, someone realizes when life knocks you down, you just gotta get back up," Ramsey said.
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