Inside the Hurt Locker: Performance Pressures On Student Athletes

Friday night lights, a Texoma tradition. Towns shut down to watch the home team battle on the gridiron.

But sometimes, the game can take a serious turn for the worse.

Junior Burkburnett player Andre Murzone was making a routine play against Graham High School last week when he was tackled. In an instant, his body crumpled.

Players, coaches, and fans were praying, making the once-deafening stadium ghostly silent. Murzone laid on the field for 25 minutes as doctors and trainers attended to him, using a drill to take off his facemask.

Ultimately, Murzone was taken off in an ambulance.

After the game, a Burkburnett coach says that Murzone had a sudden shock to his body, and his electrical functions temporarily shut down.

Even though Murzone spent the night in the hospital, he will suit up for Burk's first postseason game next week, if his team makes the playoffs.

Sean Fischer, a Senior at Iowa Park High School, knows what it's like to be down on the field.

"This is my first injury, ever," says Fischer.

He's recovering from an ACL injury.

"Just first game of the season, first starting ever and 3rd quarter I got hurt, didn't really realize how bad of an injury 'till I kept hurting really bad," Fischer explained. "They said it was my ACL, I destroyed it and I was done for 6 months."

Sean said he wanted to play through the pain, and continued in the game.

"I don't want to be one of those kids to lay down. I have just never been for that," says Fischer.

Even though Sean's injury was season-ending, he says he was still pushed by his coaches, and even himself, to toughen up and play.

"He was just like "C'mon Sean, pick it up, you got this. You know, get yourself together," explains Fischer. "And then I just got back up and went into the huddle."

City View High School Special Teams Coach Adam Arrington says the practice is common. "Athletes are competitors, they are going to want to get back as quickly as they can and they may not look at the safety of themselves," he says.

Many say that mentality is part of the game.

Seretha Elkins, the Director of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation at the Orthopaedic and Sports Therapy Center in Wichita Falls, says a tremendous amount of pressure is placed on student-athletes.

"They always have pressure," says Elkins. "Especially the kids that are the starters, that are the elite-level athletes. They have pressure from everyone to get back."

Elkins says some coaches even go around their team of doctors, to get a player back in the game. That can potentially put the athlete in danger.

"We've had it happen where a coach will find another doctor to give that kid a different opinion, and it's frustrating sometimes when you feel maybe it's not the best thing for that athlete," explains Elkins.

The pressure to return can have devastating results.

Just last week in Kansas, Nathan Stiles, a star Senior running back and linebacker, died after collapsing on the field. It was the player's first game back after suffering a concussion earlier in October.

The University Interscholastic League in Texas, known as the UIL, now wants student athletes taken out of the game if they experience any type of concussion.

Currently, players only need a 15-minute waiting period before they can be put back into action.

No matter what rules are put in place, there are still risks, and not every injury is that easy to identify.

Sixteen-year-old Adam Smith was on the practice field in Archer City when he suddenly collapsed. The teen suffered a very rare and very serious stroke affecting his cerebellum and brain stem.

"The area that he had the stroke is a very unusual area to have it," explains Fernando Acosta, Adam's Neurologist at Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth. "A lot of times it is associated with trauma. And he was at football practice when this happened."

Adam's dad, who is also the Head Coach and Athletic Director, witnessed his son go down.

"I've coached a long time and any time you see a player down, it's heart wrenching. But to see my own son, it's pretty bad," says Smith, tearing up.

Dr. Acosta says Adam is a medical miracle for surviving his stroke.

"Adam will not play football again. And I understand his dad is a coach. But I know that won't be a problem. The Smith family doesn't want any more trauma," says Acosta.

Adam Smith's family isn't concerned about him playing football again - they want him to walk again.

But doctors do say his sports background is helping shape a miraculous recovery.

"He's a football player, so he's in good shape, so that's going for him," explains Dr. Acosta. "That also usually means that he is mentally tough and he going to need that. It's going to be a long road ahead of him."

Doctors still don't know the exact cause of the Adam's stroke.

Adam has been moved from the pediatric intensive care unit at Cook Children's Hospital to the rehab floor and he is steadily improving.

Wednesday, he had his first outing with therapists, even eating solid foods. Although more testing is needed, he may be released from the hospital in the next one to two weeks.

Mary Moloney, Newschannel 6