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Five plays before the end of Millard's 20-7 win against Delta, junior fullback T.J. Stevens started complaining that he didn't feel well. As the two teams shook hands after the game was final, he collapsed.

Even when the ambulance came, coach Marshall Sheriff still thought Stevens might be just seriously dehydrated. Then he heard his fullback was being flown by helicopter to the hospital, panic flooded him.

"A lot of the kids on our team were in shock," Sherriff says. "You realize that the football game isn't as important as it seemed 30 minutes ago."

The good news for Millard is that Stevens is recovering at home, after being treated for a subdural hematoma — known as "brain bleeding" — at Primary Children's Hospital and avoiding serious surgery. Sadly, the junior won't be able to play football again. But the team is just happy he's OK.

"It's been a roller coaster, but we're thrilled that he's good," Sheriff said. "I've gone through the guilt of playing him, but his parents have been really supportive."

Steven's situation is complicated by his medical history. As a freshmen, doctors removed a cyst from his brain, and he didn't play football for his first two years at the school.

This season, Stevens had been cleared by doctors to play, and he won the starting job at fullback. In the Delta game, Sheriff said he was surprised that he hadn't seen Stevens take a particularly hard hit.

"In his first game he played good," Sheriff said. "There was a little helmet contact in the second one, but nothing that made you say, 'Wow.'"

The team has spent the week figuring out how to fill the space Stevens leaves behind on the depth chart, but also as a personality on the team. Sheriff said the students at the school have signed posters for Stevens that were sent to his house, and the team is planning to make him an honorary captain.

Their spirits were brightened by a text from Stevens, saying he was OK and glad that he got a chance to be a part of the experience.

"Sometimes, these things have a way of making people closer," Sheriff said. "He'll be an inspiration to us going into the rest of the season."

— Kyle Goon

Twitter: @kylegoon

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