MEDINA, Tenn. — Dallas Benson trotted out to South Gibson’s practice field without a helmet and pads.

It’s an abnormally hot fall day. But Benson has been waiting more than a year for this moment. Twelve months ago, it wasn’t in the realm of possibility Benson would be back on the football field. On Oct. 3, 2016, Benson was 15 minutes from dying.

At 16 years old, Benson suffered a stroke.

“I remember every single thing,” Benson said. “I was saved by sweet tea because I was going to get some sweet tea, and when it happened, I threw the glass against the wall.”

The cause of the stroke has been determined to be a combination of a genetic condition called Factor V Leiden — a blood clotting disorder — and high blood pressure.

The involuntary reaction was the beginning. The therapy and months that followed were strenuous. The one thing that kept Benson going was getting back to the football field, no matter what. He returned to practice Oct. 9.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without football,” Benson said. “Without the coaches, all the players and everything. They helped me with a lot of it. That’s people I talk to every day, see every day.”

Charity Busby heard the glass break.

She went to check on her nephew. At first, she thought Benson was sleepwalking. Busby realized that wasn’t the case once he collapsed. She knew the warning signs. Busby’s mother has suffered numerous strokes. Busby reacted as quickly as she could, telling her husband to dial 911. Benson eventually landed at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis.

“You don’t think of your 16-year-old or nephew or anybody having a stroke,” Busby said. “The doctors at Le Bonheur, every doctor actually, that had come in, told us that had I not acted so fast, he would definitely not be here, or in way worse shape.”

Benson had to relearn everything. To cope with his situation, football became his saving grace.

“That’s the only word I knew how to say. I want to play football,” Benson said. “Tell coach I’m not going to be at school tomorrow. That’s the only words I could keep on saying. They asked who I was and I said I wanna go to football.”

He regained his memory slowly with football. Coach Scott Stidham made it a priority to keep Benson involved. The coaching staff and members of the team regularly visited him in the hospital. Benson, an offensive lineman his first two years, returned to support the team before the regular-season finale against Milan last year.

Benson hangs around the team and watches practice, film and is on the sidelines during games.

“It’s now to the point where you don’t really notice,” Stidham said. “Dallas is just Dallas. He’s always with us.”

Last Monday, Benson gave Stidham a letter from his doctor saying he was clear to participate in non-contact drills. He went out during practice and started kicking off a tee.

Against Covington last Friday, Benson dressed out. He was on the sidelines sporting his No. 51 jersey in full pads.

“From where he was, about almost exactly a year ago to where he is now, the only words that come to my mind, it’s a miracle that he’s with us and the progress he’s made,” Stidham said.

Playing in a game might be a different story. Busby said she’ll only want him back on the field as a kicker only, and if, he passes all the tests. But she’ll be apprehensive.

“They treat it like a brain injury,” she said. “They had told him ‘no’ that he wouldn’t play football again. . Of course, it’s scary. Kind of mixed emotions about it. You’re excited but yet you’re scared and withdrawn a little, too.”

For now, Benson will keep trying his luck as a kicker in practice. He holds out hope that one day he’ll be cleared and be a regular on the playing field.

“I want to be back before senior year,” the South Gibson junior said. “I wanna be able to hit.”


Information from: The Jackson Sun, http://www.jacksonsun.com

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LUIS TORRES
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