COLUMBIA — His red hair and 6-foot-4-inch frame make him easy to spot on the playing field with the Hickman boys soccer team, but it had become even easier while he was restricted to the sidelines, where he wasn't able to dress like his healthy teammates.
Senior defender Cole Brendel suffered a concussion in September and is just now starting to see action again.
On September 11, Brendel, who had just left for school, was involved in a automobile collision less than 200 yards from his house at the intersection of Rollins Road and Defoe Drive in Columbia.
“It was really sunny that day and I turned out in front of someone because I never saw her, and she caught me in the front right side of my car,” Brendel said. The collision was so violent that he hit his head on the rearview mirror.
Brendel went to class that day, but it was not until later on in the day that he started to feel discomfort.
“I felt a lot of pressure on my head,” Brendel said. "It was my first concussion, so it was really foreign to me.”
Stefani West, Hickman’s head athletic trainer, said athletes that get concussions typically miss at least six days before they are able to return to competition.
She explained that players with concussions must be symptom-free for three days before returning to practice after which they will undergo an additional three days of progression before being cleared to compete in games.
“The first day (of progression) we do about 15 minutes of running, the second is a little bit more drill specific, the third is a full practice, and then they can return with the only caveat being that their first day back (after the three days) can’t be a game,” West said.
West said most athletes know something is wrong when they get a concussion and that they shouldn't be competing. She said that as a result, they are not surprised when she restricts them from practice, but are disappointed when they are informed of the duration of their exclusion.
Brendel sat out almost three weeks before playing in his first game after the accident.
West called Brendel a smart kid, and said that even though he was disappointed to have missed games, he kept a steady head during the recovery process.
“It was tough because we were struggling at the time, so it was hard to sit around and not do much besides talking to everyone and getting them psyched up for games,” Brendel said.
Shortly after his injury, his role changed; he became an assistant coach and motivator who tried to keep the team's spirits high from the bench. Hickman head coach Adam Taylor said that Brendel had kept things fun and light as an assistant. Taylor said that one of Brendel’s best attributes is being able to help everyone on the roster gel.
“He really isn’t one of those kids that falls in with one group,” Taylor said. “I hate to admit it, but we do have some cliques. He’s the kind of kid that fits in with all of those groups and brings them together.”
Scott Whitehill, one of Brendel's close friends on the team, was also quick to point to his outgoing personality.
“Whenever the team is down and we’re not feeling good after a loss, Brendel has wise words to say, and he can always make anyone laugh whenever you’re not feeling well," Whitehill said.
For Brendel, the worst part was being held out of this season’s only game against crosstown rivals Rock Bridge.
“I’ve never beaten those guys and I was hoping that would have been the chance where I finally could have done it, but it didn’t play out that way,” he said.
One highlight for Brendel was being cleared to play before senior night. He and the other ten seniors were all in the starting lineup for that game. Brendel said that one of the most difficult aspects of being back has been regaining his fitness.
“I was never really in the best shape that I would have liked to be in and then sitting out for 20 days didn’t help at all,” he said.
“He was really bummed that he had to sit and then he came back and he was really excited to play,” Whitehill said. “He’s been playing better and getting more playing time and I think he has worked harder and pushed himself.”
Taylor said that some kids tend to not be as aggressive when they come back after a concussion, but he said it hasn't been the case with Brendel.
“He did a great job of rehabbing,” Taylor said. “A lot of kids want to come back too early and Stefani held him out until we knew that he was 100 percent, so I think that helped out a lot.”