INDIANAPOLIS – The story you are about to read? It will sound unlikely. It will sound fictitious. It will sound like a staple gun being shot six times – ba-BOOM, ba-BOOM – into the skull of a 16-year-old named Andrew Williams.
It will feel nauseating at times, but you have the easy part. You just have to read about it. Williams’ teammates on the Heritage Christian soccer team had it worse: They saw the skull of one of their best players come unpeeled like an orange, spurting blood through his fingers and all over his face.
Andrew Williams had it worst of all, of course. He had to leave his regional semifinal, after scoring one goal and assisting on the other to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead against Tipton, for the emergency room. He had to get the staples in his head.
This is a true story, I’m telling you, as ridiculous and gross and movie-like as it sounds. While doctors were stapling up Andrew Williams’ head, Heritage Christian was finishing off Tipton to advance to the regional final that night against Crawfordsville.
As you can imagine, Andrew didn’t start the regional final, not with six staples still fresh in his head and dried blood still caked in his hair. But he did finish it.
And scored the winning goal in overtime.
Oh, it happened all right.
* * *
“It wasn’t as crazy as it sounds,” is how Andrew starts to describe what happened Saturday at regionals, but as you’ll see throughout this story, that’s Andrew. He’s so humble, so lousy at talking about himself, I went to his teammates, parents, coaches. All of them said the same thing:
It was every bit as crazy as it sounds.
“I’ve never seen so much blood,” says Eagles senior captain Cam Wilson. “It was scary, it was really scary. When I saw Andrew coming back to the field, I said: ‘Oh my gosh, that kid is crazy.’ ”
He’s intense, Andrew Williams. He’s a 4.2 student, one of the top five in his class. He plays basketball as well, starting a handful of varsity games last season as a 5-6 freshman point guard. He’s grown to 5-10 and will have a bigger role this season, and when the basketball team meets every Friday at 6 a.m. for open gym, Andrew’s there too. Even if he has a soccer game that night. Just the kind of kid he is.
“He has so much heart,” Cam Wilson says.
The play that cracked open his skull was a 50-50 ball in the air near midfield. Andrew banged heads with a player from Tipton and went to the ground, tried to get up, then went back down.
“It was a bloody mess,” said Heritage Christian boys basketball coach Corey Jackson, who was there as a fan. “It seemed like he was in one of those really bad car accidents. Blood down his face and all that. Kind of gruesome.”
Spectators were watching with hands on their heads when Andrew came off the field. His mother’s face was the first he saw, and Andrew tried to comfort her:
“It’s all good, mom,” he said.
Well, not really. Andrew’s parents, Jess and Tracy, took him to the emergency room at Community North, where the doctor told him he needed staples to close the gaping wound.
Fine, Andrew said. Can I play tonight?
No, the doctor said. Not after we give you anesthesia to numb the pain.
“No anesthesia,” Andrew said. “Just do it.”
With Andrew squeezing his mom’s arm, the doctor gave a “1-2-3” count and pulled the trigger. Ba-BOOM, is the sound it made. Six times Andrew squeezed Tracy Williams’ arm. Six times the doctor counted down, 1-2-3.
Six times. Ten seconds apart. Longest minute of Andrew Williams’ life.
“I’m not going to lie,” he was telling me a few days later, smiling as he probed the 2-inch stapled gash in his scalp. “It hurt. Before I could get over the pain from the last one, the next one was already in my head.”
But back to the field he went, getting to the sideline with about 5 minutes left in the 7-0 Heritage Christian victory over Tipton.
“I got a text from his mom during the (Tipton) game, saying he decided not to take the anesthetic,” says Andrew’s coach, Caleb Schnake. “I’m blown away, but I keep coaching. And then here he comes back from the hospital, big smile on his face, hugging guys on the bench. It was an unbelievable moment.”
But not the best moment of the day. That one was coming. It was coming soon.
* * *
Andrew wasn’t going to play that night.
“We didn’t want to take any unnecessary risk,” Schnake. “I’d talked to the team about stepping up for your brother when he’s down. Andrew had been a beast in the air (11 of his 17 goals since last season have come on headers), and other guys need to step up on balls in the air.”
Without Andrew (12 goals, eight assists), Heritage Christian was scoreless deep into the first half. Schnake put Andrew into the game.
Stapled, padded and wrapped up, Andrew Williams scored almost immediately.
“Don’t write it like that,” Andrew tells me. “I barely did anything. (Junior) Elijah Rotto made a great move and then gave me a great pass, and it was just me and the keeper, and I put it in.”
Crawfordsville scored twice to take a 2-1 lead late in the second half, and then Cam Wilson did what his coach had asked: He filled the aerial void, slamming home a header to send the game into overtime.
In the second overtime, bleeding again after a collision with the Crawfordsville keeper, Andrew scored his second goal to win the game.
“Don’t write it like that,” Andrew tells me. “Our best crosser, (sophomore) Asher King, sent it across the field and I just volleyed it in.”
I’ll tell this story, Andrew.
But it needs an ending. The Eagles play Argos – at Argos – on Saturday morning at semistate. (Heritage Christian’s girls also reached semistate, and will play Evansville Mater Dei at Lawrenceburg.)
Andrew will start on Saturday, taking his stapled skull onto the field one more time. His doctor told him he can keep playing, “as long as you don’t head it.”
Andrew tells me that, and he’s smiling. He knows there will come a time Saturday when he’s near the goal and the ball’s in the air. What will happen next is as easy as 1-2-3: