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High school football: East Hall strengthened with good news about players who had significant injuries against Chestatee
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East Hall running back Jacob Christian gets blocking for a big gain Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, during the first half of the Vikings home game with Johnson High. - photo by Scott Rogers

Having one player go down with a serious injury in a game is enough to shake any high school football team’s focus and psyche.

To have it happen to a second player, and on the exact same play, is even more devastating.

That is the exact situation the East Hall Vikings found themselves in during the third quarter of last Friday’s Region 8-4A opener at Chestatee when Jake Jones went down with a neck injury that caused him to temporarily lose feeling in his extremities, while teammate Caden Crocker suffered a seizure from a hematoma around his brain while medical personnel were tending to Jones.

The pair are now doing much better, with Jones, a junior offensive/defensive lineman, having regained feeling in his legs moments later and eventually being released from Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville in the early morning hours Saturday, while Crocker, a sophomore defensive back/receiver, was released from Children’s Scottish Rite Hospital in Atlanta Wednesday afternoon after spending five days there.

That is a relief for all the East Hall players, coaching staff and support staff, though the fear and worry of the moment was evident for the rest of the evening during what had been a close game and turned into a 44-12 loss and all throughout the weekend and into early this week.

“I don’t want to take anything away from Chestatee. They’ve got a really good football team and Coach (Shaun) Conley does a great job, but I just think after that happened, it changed our mindset. I know it did mine,” East Hall coach Matt Turner said. “Our minds were obviously not on football at that moment, and it’s the same for a lot of our kids. When you see a teammate suffering and going through that, it changes your perspective tremendously. I was proud of our kids, though, for rallying together. At that moment in time, I thought the most important thing we did was just play … and finish the game and keep their composure. It was very emotional time. There were a lot of tears, a lot of concerned guys.

“Monday was a very difficult (practice). The weekend was a rough couple of days and Monday was a difficult day for all of us. It was a tough start to practice, and we just kind of stopped practice and talked for a minute … about our guys that were out, and that we’ve got to push forward. That’s what they want us to do. They’ll come back to us at some point. Until then, we’ve got to keep going forward.”

That task should be a little easier with the good news that has evolved about both players’ conditions in the last few days.

Jones is actually back at practice after being cleared by doctors, though in limited contact for the time being, and fully expects to play Friday night when the Vikings (2-1, 0-1) host North Hall (0-3, 0-1).

But he admits to being very scared following the injury last Friday and said he leaned on the support he got from his teammates, coaches and friends to get him through emotionally as his body healed.

“I actually had a (doctor’s) appointment Monday,” Jones said. “I got released and have been taking Monday and Tuesday off, but they said Monday, ‘You’re looking good and you can play this Friday.’ So, I’m looking forward to that.

“I was terrified. I was thinking the whole time I was on the ground, ‘Will I be able to walk again?’ It was a very scary moment. I’m thankful for my brothers. They were there praying for me, especially (junior defensive end) Cason Cash. He’s one of my really good friends, and he was with me. … He’s like one of my brothers right there. There’s nothing (else) I can really say. It was just scary.”

Turner said Wednesday that for the time being, he and the East Hall coaching staff will be a little cautious with Jones, and whether he plays Friday night will depend on further evaluation from the team’s training and medical staff.

But from his teammates’ perspective, they’re just glad to see Jones back at practice with them, which has taken a big emotional strain off the entire team.

“It’s a big weight (off the players) because like I said, it’s two guys we care about on the team,” senior offensive/defensive lineman Jake Evans said. “We’re all together. That’s our motto. That’s what we do.”

While it is uncertain when or if Crocker will be back this season, he is expected to attend Friday’s game and speak to the team beforehand if he feels up to it, something the Vikings say they are very much looking forward to.

“I’ve been missing that kid a lot,” senior offensive/defensive lineman Caleb Pruitt said. “Jake was here (Tuesday) hanging out with us, but it’s hard not having (Crocker) here (as well). … “(Their recoveries are) a really big relief. They’re our family. They’re our brothers. I’ve been playing football with both of them for a while now. It’s just been hard, but knowing that they’re better now is a big relief.”

As stressful as the past week has been for the Vikings, Turner said the life lesson that has come from the events since Friday’s game has not only helped the team become closer as a unit, but could help the players down the road even beyond the football field.

“It’s funny. As our kids have gotten better from their injuries – as they’ve recovered, we’ve recovered,” Turner said. “(Tuesday), we had a much better practice. It seemed like were practicing normal because we’d heard that Caden was doing better, and Jake being at practice … Monday, we just stopped practice and everybody kind of cheered and gave him a hug. So, it’s been an emotional couple of days and a tough couple of days, but I couldn’t be prouder of our kids and the way they’ve handled it.”

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