By Alexandra Gutierrez | Photo by JayJay Gonzalez
Originally published in the Nov. 18 print edition of the Advocate
The air is cold. The crowds are loud. The teams are ready to take the field in one of the biggest games of the season. It’s playoffs and senior guard, Nathaniel Hernandez, is on the sidelines, as he has been all season. It is one of the last games the Mavericks will play this year and his cleats will never touch turf.
Growing up, all he wanted to do was to play football for the rest of his life, just like every other little boy. But for Nathaniel, better known as Nate, it was different. He had dreams and passion for the game, and it was that passion that kept him playing for ten years. But during his senior year, those dreams were crushed because of a severe head injury.
“I was expecting a lot of good things to happen,” Hernandez said. “There was a lot riding on this year.”
On Aug. 13, just 14 days before the first game, the team held a varsity scrimmage. On offense, Hernandez delivered a couple head-to-head hits and then switched to defense, but he didn’t quite feel like himself. After a few plays, he started to experience intense head pains.
“It felt like two people were hitting me in the head with bats at the same time,” Hernandez said.
He thought he was dehydrated so he started drinking water. He started pouring water on his face, and began slipping in and out of consciousness. When he woke up, he was being rushed to the hospital and his teammates were left on the field worrying.
“I couldn’t focus on what I was supposed to do on the field because I was really worried about Nathaniel,” Jeremy Perez said.
Nate had experienced a subdural hematoma. Subdural hematomas are usually a result of serious head injury. Bleeding fills the brain rapidly and compresses brain tissue. This often results in permanent brain injury and sometimes death.
“I would say I’m definitely blessed to be alive,” Hernandez said. “I have no doubt that it was the work of God and my grandpa — that died last year on my birthday — that laid their hands on my head and saved my life.”
Hernandez tries to look on the bright side of all this: he’s still around and he’s still able to be with his family, friends, and teammates. Having this season off became a “door opener” for him. He improved his grades because, now that he doesn’t have football, his grades have to be his ticket into college. He also tries to make his teammates understand that playing is a privilege and that they should enjoy the time they have playing.
“I just wish everybody that still has the privilege of playing football; that they make every play their best play because before you know it, it’s gone,” Hernandez said.
His teammates have learned that playing isn’t something they take for granted. After Nate’s incident, they realized that anyone can get injured and none of it will ever be expected.
“You are never guaranteed another down of football in your life,” Perez added.
Nate was released from the hospital one week after the incident. When he returned home, a couple of his close friends went by to show their support for him, but with heavy hearts.
“I had mixed feelings for him,” Perez said. “I was happy he was okay but I was also heartbroken for him because I knew how much he loved football.”
The day after Nate was released, Meet the Mavs was taking place, and just like all the other football players, he went. The event ended up being an emotional event for him and the team.
“Well, you see when something like that happens, we [the team] see how fragile things are,” head coach Jim Streety said. “One injury can take everything you’ve worked for, that each and everyday you have to give everything into what you love to do, because that day could be your last.”
This year, because Nate wasn’t able to play during his senior year, the team started “State for Nate.” The team set a goal for themselves to win the state title this season to show their support for him. This goal has inspired the players to play better and try harder because they’re doing it all for him.
“I just try to play hard every week so we can win state for him because he deserves it,” said Donovan Williams.
Through all the support of his team, his life-changing incident, and the ten years of playing, he never grew tired and his love grew stronger.