Forget about football. Ivan Vasquez’s life as he knew it was almost ended.
Nobody will ever know just how close the three-year starting quarterback for the La Puente High School football came to being paralyzed or mentally disabled on that scary night back in September, when the entire community came to a standstill as the Warriors’ star player lay motionless on the field.
What we do know is doctors told Vasquez he was very lucky as they released him from Queen of the Valley Hospital hours after the incident.
Vasquez remembers only the before and after, but not the scariest part. The part where two rival teams gathered at midfield to pray for him. The part where two opposing coaches got together and decided to prematurely end a key game with more than 10 minutes left to play. The part where his frightened family members shed tears while paramedics worked to help him.
But he can tell us this: “The play was to roll out to the right and right when I got the snap I rolled out to the right and saw the nose tackle come at me,” Vasquez said.
“He hit me and I bounced off of him and I ran the opposite way. I was trying to run to the sideline but another guy got me. He got my leg and I just whip-lashed to the ground. Pretty much, my head hit the ground and that’s when everything went blank. Right when I hit the ground, I saw black and white. And then I was out for a couple minutes.”
As Vasquez lay unconscious, the stadium fell silent.
The reminder of just what type of risk our local athletes take each time they strap on their protective armor and take the field in the name of school pride was ever-present in the form of a motionless teenager whose short- and long-term health was called into question in a matter of seconds.
“I had seen knees and ankles twisted, but that was the first time I had ever seen somebody completely knocked out and not responding,” La Puente coach Brandon Rohrer said.
“That’s really hard to see.”
Vasquez was taken by ambulance to a hospital. Somewhere along the way he regained full consciousness and remembers the ambulance ride and emergency room clutter. After having tests done, doctors released Vasquez but not before telling him how fortunate he was to be literally walking out of the hospital.
“They said it was very swollen and that I had hurt my neck really bad,” Vasquez said. “They said it was going to hurt me for months and that I’m going to get headaches that come and go.
“I was like, `Thank God, I can be back on my feet again.’ That was the first thing that went through my head was that I could walk again.”
Vasquez still was woozy when he left the hospital and needed assistance walking. Then, after several days of rest, a strange thing happened.
Vasquez started getting the urge to play football again … much to his mother’s chagrin.
“She’s an old-school mom and she told me she didn’t want me to play anymore because she didn’t want to see me in that position again,” Vasquez said. “But I told her I understood where she’s coming from, but that’s my thing, I love to play football.
“I told my mom I had to fight it to the end and I couldn’t leave my teammates hanging.”
After taking a week off to think about it while his teammates played and whipped Ganesha, Vasquez made up his mind that he would be back on the field the following week in a key league against Sierra Vista. The news of his decision caused his mother to break down and for Rohrer to have his own reservations.
“Your major concern, obviously, is your player’s health,” Rohrer said. “These guys, a lot of them aren’t going to go play in college. So you have to think about their life after football.
“He experienced headaches for a while and I told him `Once you don’t have headaches for a couple of days, come and see me and we’ll talk more about playing.’ Basically, it has to be a family decision, not mine.”
Sure enough, Vasquez was back on the field for the Sierra Vista game. A little scared and a little cautious, he completed 7 of 10 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns in the Warriors’ 42-0 win.
But the stats and the win weren’t the only positives to come out of the game. Vasquez suffered a late hit and lived to tell about it.
“I threw it and got blindsided,” Vasquez said. “I just closed my eyes and hit the ground hard. My head banged again. Surprisingly, I got back up. It kinda hurt. It took my air a little bit.
“I know coach Rohrer saw it and he took me out for a play. He asked me `Are you good?’ and I said `Yeah, I’m good, I’m good, I’m good.’ ”
Since Vasquez’s scary moment against Gladstone, the Warriors (8-2) have not lost a game. Last week, they clinched a share of the Montview League title and will host El Segundo in the first round of the Northwest Division playoffs on Friday night.
It may or may not be the last football game of Vasquez’s life. The three-year starter has never won a playoff game, so he knows just what type of an opportunity lays directly ahead.
But win or lose, Vasquez has already proven everything he needs to. And the game capable of teaching players and coaches so many lessons already has done just that in the case of the Warriors this season.
“A lot of people checked on me and I thanked them,” Vasquez said. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I’d be right now. Even the quarterback from Gladstone (Kevin Amezquita) messaged me on Facebook to see how I was doing. When I saw that, it just helped me more.
“And everyone in this school just came to me with open arms and helped me through it. This year has been the best year I’ve ever had with these teammates. It felt like the injury I got changed the whole mentality of us.”