COLUMBIA — Wes Kemp didn’t see the hit, but he heard the crunch.
Then the ‘oooohs.’
Munir Prince, his friend of eight years and teammate on the Missouri football team, was lying motionless on Faurot Field’s turf.
“I looked over and saw him on the ground not moving,” Kemp said. “Here’s this guy you know for eight years, and you don’t know if he’s going to be able to walk again. It wasn’t like he was moving a little bit. He was unconscious.”
Prince, a senior cornerback, collided with defensive lineman Marcus Malbrough on a punt return during last Thursday’s scrimmage. Play continued while trainers and doctors tended to him, but after a few minutes the scrimmage ceased.
“Guys get hit a lot,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “We usually just continue practice. If we stopped practice every time a guy went down, we probably wouldn’t get done.”
But when Pinkel realized the gravity of the situation, he stopped practice so coaches and players could take a knee nearby Prince.
“I didn’t see any movement. None. I was absolutely frightened,” Pinkel said.
Kemp, a junior receiver, did the only thing he could do. He prayed. His former idol was helpless. Both played football at De Smet in St. Louis where Prince graduated two years ahead of Kemp.
“Going into high school I always looked up to him,” Kemp said. “He was a guy out of the St. Louis area getting a ton of looks, a ton of offers. In high school he was the man, going to Notre Dame. I kind of emulated him. I just wanted to be like him, to work like him.”
Sitting in the hospital waiting room, Kemp just wanted to hear that Prince would walk again.
“The first time I got there they were taking the x-rays and the MRI,” Kemp said. “Thankfully everything came back negative. Then he started having feeling in his fingers and in his toes. Then he could move his legs.”
Team physician Pat Smith diagnosed Prince with transient quadriplegia. He had a temporary loss of sensation and movement in his upper and lower extremities.
After the tests, Kemp and several other teammates and coaches made their way to the Intensive Care Unit where Kemp stayed with Prince until 11:30 p.m.
“We were just talking about the scrimmage,” Kemp said. “We were keeping the conversation light, making a few jokes. We talked about how he lost leverage on a play, so we were giving him a hard time for that. We just had him laughing, trying to take his mind off being in the hospital.”
But Kemp couldn’t keep his own mind clear. Seeing his friend so helpless just hours before was a terrifying memory.
“I’ve never seen it where nobody’s moved,” Kemp said. “That was pretty scary. It put the game, it put life into perspective.
“The biggest thing I learned is that life is precious. When you see a flash like that, you think that could be you. That could be someone you know, and everything could be gone like that. Don’t take anything for granted. Live life to the fullest because one day you can be in a situation like that and it could wind up worse.”
Prince was back with his team in meetings on Sunday, and Pinkel said his status will be re-evaluated in the coming weeks.