COLUMBIA — Drew Gordon was face down on the turf at the end of a play in practice. His teammates stood up and huddled with coaches. He didn't.
He couldn't. Gordon was paralyzed and barely conscious.
The senior linebacker plays hard. He has suffered shoulder and back injuries and even concussions as a member of the Rock Bridge football team, but nothing compares to what happened on Sept. 9.
About 30 minutes after the play, he was carted off the field and into an ambulance. Gordon barely remembers what happened.
"I was temporarily paralyzed for a few minutes," he said. "The doctor said I was close to being a paraplegic."
Gordon has since regained the ability to walk and began rehabilitation for his neck injury that caused his paralysis. However, he will miss the rest of the Bruins' season. Rock Bridge hosts Helias, the No. 9-ranked Class 4A team in Missouri, at 7 p.m. Friday.
"It was about this close," said Rock Bridge athletic trainer Greg Nagel, as he spread his forefinger and thumb apart slightly to show how near Gordon came to being permanently paralyzed. "It's just a matter of millimeters. Everything is so close in there (where Gordon injured his neck). With just a little bit more force to the head, he could've been paraplegic."
Gordon had a mixed reaction when the doctor told him his condition.
"I was so mad," he said. "I was happy about not being paralyzed, but I can't play for the rest of the season. It sucked."
His injury occurred when he was blocking as a fullback. Gordon fell and teammate Skylar Hinton kneed him in the front of the helmet. That hit inflicted a concussion and forced his head to snap backwards. His spinal cord went through a series of bending, compressing and twisting contortions. As a result, the tissue around the spinal cord pinched and caused bruising on the spinal cord.
When Nagel arrived on the field to treat Gordon, he asked Gordon to move his toes and perform a grip test. Gordon could barely do either.
Now, Gordon is working to strengthen the tissue around his neck. He performs isometric exercises by pushing against an immovable object for short periods of time. If he tried to do more strenuous exercises, Gordon would suffer headaches and nausea, according to Nagel.
Gordon earned the nickname "Wild Bill" during his sophomore year. Assistant coach Justin Conyers gave Gordon the moniker for his likeness to the gunslinger "Wild Bill" Hickok.
"He always flew around and hit people," Conyers said. "There were plenty of times when he'd try to blow the wedge (of blockers during kickoff coverage). Sometimes he won, and sometimes he didn't. He wasn't afraid of contact. He loves to hit people."
Despite his injury, Gordon doesn't plan on changing. He hopes to enlist in the military next year and work toward becoming a military policeman in the Army.
"If I live through that, what's next?" he said. "You get a feeling of being invincible. I'll see what's next."