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Laying on the football field, staring up at the sky, Jared Damko found himself trapped in a moment of fear.
He was quickly trying to process information and produce answers to the questions being asked.
"All I knew was that I heard and felt a pop in my back," Damko recalled. "When I opened my eyes, everyone was standing around me. To be honest, I immediately got more frightened than anything else."
Damko, a 5-foot-7, 170-pound senior defensive back had just attempted to bring down a CVCA running back during an Aug. 14 scrimmage. Just the day before, Damko had been voted by his peers as a captain for the 2013 G-Men -- evidence of the respect he had from his teammates considering it was only his second year on the team and third at the school since moving from Stoneboro, Pa.
Unfortunately for Damko, though, his second year of football would never get past the team's first scrimmage.
"It happened about 10 plays into it," Garfield head coach Mike Moser said. "Their running back busted off-tackle and Jared came up to make a play. His feet slipped out from under him, which put him in a bad position physically."
The Royals' running back, which Moser estimated at about 230 pounds, forcefully collided with Damko, who was then landed on inadvertently by a teammate -- another 230-pounder -- who had been in pursuit of the play.
"I basically got folded up like a lawnchair," Damko said.
SECONDS FELT LIKE HOURS
The play immediately made Moser's heart drop.
"The collision made a sick sound. Jared is as tough as they come, and I could hear him yell and it scared me," Moser said. "As a coach, you are usually ready for an injury, but not that one. I was not ready for that one."
Trainers from both CVCA and Garfield raced onto the field and began to assess Damko, who initially told them that he could not feel his legs.
"My mind was racing like crazy. You can't stop thinking about the kid's future," Moser said.
After a few moments passed, Damko told the trainers that he could feel his legs, but that it hurt too much to try and move them.
An ambulance arrived to take Damko to the nearest hospital, immobilizing him on a stretcher as a precaution.
It wasn't until the ride to the hospital that Damko remembers first being able to wiggle his toes.
"At that point, I was hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst," Damko said. "I actually didn't realize how lucky I was until I got to the hospital."
It was discovered that Damko had suffered a fracture to his second lumbar vertebrae. The lumbar vertebrae, which are located in the lower back, are the five strongest in the spine.
The diagnosis was a simple one for the doctors to deliver, but a tough one for Damko to absorb.
His 2013 season was over before it even began.
Damko, a mature student-athlete with an inspiring perspective, was disappointed by the news, but understood it was a decision he had to respect.
"It was tough to hear, but the most important news was that I wasn't paralyzed, and I was so grateful for that," Damko said. "One of my nurses told me that she had seen so many people have the same injury as me and never were able to walk back out of the hospital."
ALWAYS A G-MAN
The injury robbed Damko of his on-the-field contributions, but he was determined for it not to rip away his senior football season entirely.
He has lived up to his captain's title as a team leader and role model for the program's underlcassmen. He attends every practice and is on the sideline for every game.
"Not being a part of this team was not an option for me," Damko said. "I made a commitment to this team, the players and the coaches, and it was my responsibility to stay. I promised I would stick with the team until the end, and that is what I plan on doing."
He helps the team in any way he can or in any way he is asked. He walks out with his teammates for every game's coin flip, mentors the team's younger players, signs plays from the sidelines, stretches out players, warms up quarterbacks and more. He has basically become an extension of the coaching staff.
While his exterior never shows any signs of it, there are still times that missing the season bothers Damko.
"I really wanted to play against Rootstown. My cousin plays for Rootstown and that would have been the first time we got to play against each other. Not being on the field for Senior Night (Friday) is going to be really hard too, but my coaches and teammates have supported me through all of this and have really made me fee like part of the team."
Damko hasn't made it onto the field physically, but his jersey number, 24, sure has. It is worn on the back of every player's helmet in a gold circle sticker, a decision Moser and his coaching staff made to honor their injured captain.
"Jared is a player that makes you so proud that he is representing our football team, school and community," Moser said. "I think that when he got hurt, we all got hurt. He is someone that has a lot of respect from his peers and his positive attitude is infectious. People see that and even now that he is hurt, he is still giving everything he has to this team and that is inspiring."
Moser said he remembers the day Damko told him that his 2013 season was over.
"He came up to me and said, 'Coach, I am so sorry that I will not get the chance to play for you this year.' I have to tell you, that got me. That got me on an emotional level. Here is a kid who had completely bought into everything that we stood for and you could see so easily that he was not doing it for himself, but for us coaches and for his teammates. I think that says everything you need to know about Jared."
Facebook: Tom Nader, Record-Courier