Varsity Preps

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

By Vincent Tataglia

When Bryce Tubbs ran out on the field with his high flying Holland Hornets squad, boasting an 8-1 record, and a berth in the Texas 2A play-offs, he never imagined the test that lay awaiting.

Holland, a quaint relaxing atmosphere, the perfect depiction of small-town USA situated in Bell County, Texas, where admission and parking were still free. This is where suburban Texas grew but the population center remained pure country. Holland had earned every right to celebrate, all 1,121 inhabitants. After all, this is Texas, God’s country, the birthplace of smash-mouth football, where toddlers run around with pacifiers hanging from their mouth’s doubled as mouth pieces, decked out in old school Dallas Cowboy Jerseys and dangling over-sized helmets sporting the lone star. This is the place where fathers still watched their kids practice, without the distraction of cell-phones and matters relating to business. Texas, the home of  Pop Warner football where youth leagues coaches can formulate offensive schemes in such sophistication, you’d think they’ve surely spent time coaching for some NFL outfit.

 

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Like it or not, Texas is football folks, there are no and’s, if’s or but’s about it!

In Holland, this particular year was above all special, things were uncommonly good here. It had been a long awaited time, but at last the resurgence of Hornet Football to prominence was clearly apparent. Holland’s otherwise slow paced lifestyle was no more, there were reasons to move quickly, get the work done, especially on Friday’s. This was Friday Night Lights at its finest. The local businesses shut down early as signs which read “Gone to Game’ adorned most Main Street shops. The pride of the town which had long faded into obscurity was back, and with a vengeance! This Hornet football squad had scores to settle; old scores, and they were doing it one game at a time.

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The Sons of Holland, the Hornets of Bell County, with their “take no prisoners” attitude resurrected a once wrenched football program which for years had laid dormant and serving only as the districts doormat.  In the words of Al Pacino, in the blockbuster football film “Any Given Sunday”,  Holland High clawed and scratched their way out of the darkness and into the light.  This team didn’t know what it was to lose, or at least they did not accept it as the status-quo.  Everything was clicking, it had to be, for waiting at their gates were district Juggernaut, The Thorndale Bulldogs, crushing all who lied in their  path. This was the making of the game of the year. There were titles at stake here, and just since the previous season, Thorndale owned an unprecedented 50 game win streak over Holland, that’s right, a half of century worth of dominant abuse!!  Since having won the previous meeting 36-33, Holland had everything to prove. Thorndale on the other hand came for retribution, they were looking for pay-back.  Both squads came having already qualified for post-season play, so besides the district title, a renewed rivalry intact and no love lost between the two schools, this was personal,  it was the perfect setting.

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The sophomore standout for Holland is running back Bryce Tubbs and he recalls what was going through his mind the week leading up to the big  game. “I wasn’t concerned, we were not concerned, we were confident but not to where we lost respect in their (Thorndale’s) ability. We knew that if we played as one, the way that we’d been, we’d take care of business. We knew they’d come ready, but we were ready too.  They have play-makers and we have play-makers too, we have guys that step up at every position. What we have over them is a bond that’s unbreakable, we’ve known each other since birth, and we still remember those days growing up when the high school was losing games, that’s something were not gonna let happen again, not like that.”

Tubbs is quick to deflect attention from himself and is a master in directing credit towards his teammates. “I’m just learning the game, and I’m surrounded by my best friends, and great players, I’ve gotten a chance to play on the same field with Tyler (Tubbs older brother) for two seasons, how many guys can say that?”

Call it like you will, but Tubbs’ stock had been on the rise since his freshmen campaign, where he quietly compiled over a 1000 yards, half of that churned on the ground and the other half by way of air, topped off with 12 TD’s.  The kid was making a name for himself,  he was definitely onto something, and like most kids playing ball he often thought of what it might be like to be one of those few to get a shot at the NCAA level.

“I would’ve loved that, didn’t matter where, close enough where my family could come out.  Not sure how that will go now, it’s still just one day at a time, I first need to conquer high school ball again, but don’t bet against me.”

 

The Game (10-31-2014)

Tubbs describes the atmosphere, “That was big, the most important game for any of us, and not only because it was Thorndale, but because we had to prove that beating them the year before wasn’t a fluke. Everybody was there, our families, friends, and people none of us knew, they looked important. We were so ready, they had to come and get it!”

Tubbs describes the stalemate, and the events which led to the play: “The game was scoreless in the first quarter, straight up fight, we expected nothing less. Neither team would budge, both defenses were playing tough, we weren’t concerned really, we knew we could move the ball on them, it was just a matter of time we thought.”

“We got the ball, clock was running off nearing the end of the first quarter. Our OC signaled a pre snap audible, their defense shifted with our adjustment, I was lined up in the slot. The call was an option to my side and my responsibility was to pick up the safety if he came. Before the snap I looked over to him, and he had already started coming at pretty fast pace, he had some serious momentum built up already. I was left at a disadvantage because of the angle he took, he was coming hard, and I was at a standstill position waiting for the snap so I could have a chance at him.”

Tubbs continues: “The ball snapped and he was already right there, near the line coming towards our tackle, and I just took off towards him, I had to dive at him if I was to make a difference, so I just planted and exploded into him, just trying to help our QB and FB get around him. My helmet connected around his hip, and it was a hard collision especially coming from my angle, and with that speed he had built up.”

I asked Tubbs if he made the block, he responded “Yes,  he went down, right there, but so did I.”

Tubbs usually quick to his feet, wasn’t so quick this time, he describes it as having slowly crawled up to his feet. With Tubbs moving slowly, it was obvious that something had gone wrong.

Mrs. Anita Tubbs Bryce’s Mother recounts: “I had this premonition of sorts that something was going happen that season, I just felt it. It was a fear and every game leading to that one had me sitting on pins and needles; anytime one of my boys was hit, and slow to get up, I would hold my breath and when Bryce went down, that night I knew that was it, I knew it was bad, I just knew.”

Bryce after the hit; “I felt really strange, something I hadn’t felt before, and as I got on my feet, I collapsed back to the ground,  I laid there thinking I had suffered a concussion, but things seemed clear in that sense, I mean I knew my name, things like that. But then suddenly I realized, that I had no feeling, it felt like I was transported out of myself, it’s hard to describe the feeling sir.”

As play stopped, a teammate rushed over to Tubbs and tried to assist him in getting back to his feet.

“One of my teammates came over and tried pulling me up, helping me you know, but I fell again and when I did, I actually got a little of the sensation back. From there I was slowly able to take a knee, slowly pulling up to my feet, alone. Still, I didn’t know, I wasn’t sure what was going on at the time. I just knew that I had little control over my body. It was a feeling where I was in deep thought or something, but I thought of nothing.”

Anita Tubbs: “I knew it was something bad, he kept stumbling, and it was hard to watch him from the stands.”

Tubbs tells me, that once he got to his feet, he was called to come off the field and wobbling, and stumbling he went towards the sideline, his sole concern being that he’d be taken out of the game.

“As I stumbled towards our side, I was thinking I needed back in the game, I thought alright I have to sit one play and I’m back in.”

Once Tubbs reached the confines of his sideline, everyone seemed back in game mode. Apparently the team trainer was absent that evening so one of the student trainers took charge, and made Tubbs sit at the bench and threw a cover over him, then placed bags of ice at the base of his neck.

“When I reached the sideline, I thought I’d just walk it off, and I was cold, it was an unusual kind of cold though, and our student trainer made me sit down, placed a cover over me and bags of ice around my neck.”

The game well into the second quarter with Thorndale leading, the Bulldogs sent over their EMT to check on Tubbs. He seemed coherent but went through a series of post-concussion tests which he passed. For safety measures he was told that he’d sit the remainder of the second quarter but could come back after the half.

“Half time rolled around and we were down 17-6, I basically stumbled my way to the field house and laid in the locker room, just trying to regain my form, my composure.”

I asked what was going through his mind now, he responded, “I knew something was wrong, I felt different, and I was in pain now, but really the only thoughts crossing my mind were that we could not lose this game, we’d let the whole town down, and to me that would’ve hurt much more than the physical pain I was feeling.”

 

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Tubbs would eventually return to the game and down by 30 points in the 4th quarter the Hornets would suddenly come alive! “We were down, but we got a spark and came alive, scored 23 points in the 4th quarter and I scored on a long pass.”

However, even with the 23 point rally it wasn’t enough, and the game would end 41-34 with Thorndale as the victors.

Eventually both schools would go on to compete in the 2A state play-offs, with Thorndale making their exit in the third round and Holland being claimed in round two.

Tubbs recounts: “ After the game I hung out with the guys, just needed to be around the team. I was in serious pain though, so I left early walked home, wasn’t far,  just down the street. As I walked near a ravine I collapsed again, my body was tingling even more intense now, all over and I was losing my feeling everywhere, I couldn’t pull myself up or even sit up, I just laid there for a while. After about 20 minutes I crawled up and slowly dragged myself home.”

“When I got there I felt wrecked, run over, all I could do was lay in bed, I laid in bed trying to calm the pain, it was a long night. When my mom came to wake me up for Saturday practice, I was already up. She asked how I was feeling and when she saw that I couldn’t even sit up she got me to the car and we went to the ER.”

Anita Tubbs: “Once the x-rays and scans came back, more doctors were called in, they were looking at each other, almost baffled, they could not believe that Bryce had walked in there on his own. Then suddenly everything just started moving quickly, emergency mode, everyone seemed in a rush.”

The test’s that came back indicated that Bryce had slipped three vertebrae’s, one of which had fractured, in layman terms, Tubbs had broken his neck.

Bryce explains: “I sustained three slipped vertebrae’s, the C-4, C-5 and C-6. The C-5 had also fractured and herniated. pushing against my spinal cord, which is why I’d go numb and lose feeling. The doctors couldn’t believe that I went back and played, apparently even the slightest of movement in the wrong way could have paralyzed me for good, or worse. I can’t even believe I went back out to play, making hard contact, getting hit, and I survived.”

Tubbs had momentarily dodged the bullet, and remember the student trainer that took control, made him sit, threw a blanket over him and iced that neck?  Well she saved Tubbs’ life!!

Tubbs on the trainer: “The way that I recall it, the doctors explained that had the ice not been placed on my neck immediately my spinal cord would have retracted, closed off, and that would have killed me, simple as that, she saved my life, literally.”

 

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Tubbs was transported to Children’s Medical where he would undergo a series of extensive surgeries all of which were deemed a success, he had only now to recover and rehabilitate. He knew that something great was in store for him, it had to be, otherwise how could he have survived? Tubbs had lived, and he could walk! 

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I came across Bryce when I noticed some serious activity across Twitter on that night, which not only piqued the journalist side of me, but also that emotional side, the one always rooting for the underdog. I thought, here is a 16 year old kid who had sustained injuries that should have left him paralyzed if not dead, yet he seemed in the best of spirits. He was not looking for pity and seemed more concerned for his friends and family. His Tweets reflected an attitude that demonstrated courage and unshakable faith. The kid went to hell and back and as I observed, and communicated with him these past six months, I saw first hand that through his journey not once did I witness anything disparaging or negative being expressed.

Son of Holland

Bryce Tubbs is a warrior, he accepted the situation, chewed it up and spit it out all in one sitting. He never wallowed in self-pity and his attitude was a single minded concentration on making gains, small but consistent gains. For those who remained near him, he made sure to remind of how much he appreciated them, he tells them that without their love and support he could not have made it this far. The fact remains however, it was us that might not have made it without him. By that I mean, he reminded us of our value, he helped us to understand that our issues are temporary and all in the way in which we thought for them to be.

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The Return

Bryce Tubbs is back and recently competed in his first track meet of the year, including the Hurdles and Long Jump. Why should that surprise me, he said it all along, he said he’d be back for track season.

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If  Tubbs ever questions as to why this thing happened to him and why he survived in such miraculous manner, I would tell him, “It was so that he would survive, recover, rehabilitate, play ball again and through it all teach others by example that life is a fleeting instance, and that each day we live we should treasure and make useful.  So now I’ll keep watching him. creeping on his Twitter, because I have a hunch that #21 will strap it up this fall.

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 Twitter: Vince Tataglia

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