It was late in the fourth quarter Friday night when Sully Buttes (Onida, S.D.) coach Mark Senftner told freshman Landon Severson to put on his helmet.
With the victory over Herreid/Selby Area already in hand and only a few seconds left on the clock, Landon figured he would be lining up at receiver while the Chargers ran a play in the opposite direction.
That wasn’t the case.
“They’re going to let you score,” Senftner told Landon, who less than a year ago was paralyzed from the waist down.
“All the way from here?” Landon asked as the offense prepared to take over from its own 25-yard line.
“Yeah, just do it,” Senftner responded.
“So, I went out there,” Landon said. “The quarterback lined us up, handed the ball to me and I just kind of strolled up the field. I had all my guys going and all the guys from Herreid/Selby were cheering me on, too. That was pretty nice.”
“It was a total surprise,” Sarah Severson, Landon’s mom, said. “I just thought they were putting him in for a nice little play to get him some playing time. So, I was totally shocked.”
It was a memorable moment on an especially emotional day.
Exactly one year earlier, Sarah received a phone call.
Her son, who seemed fine when he left the house earlier that morning, couldn’t move his legs. It began with a tingling sensation and numbness, and within 40 minutes, he was paralyzed from the waist down.
“For me it’s been tough, of course,” Sarah said. “Nobody wants to see their child go through something like this, especially when he was a perfectly healthy three-sport athlete prior to that, and in a matter of 40 minutes his life changed.”
Landon was taken by ambulance to Pierre and then driven to Sioux Falls for further testing.
He was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a rare autoimmune disorder that affected his ability to move his legs and feet, as well as the function of his bowel and bladder.
Landon spent the next two weeks in a Sioux Falls hospital where he received high doses of IV steroids, plasmapheresis, MRIs and lumbar punctures.
“The doctors and medical professionals don’t really give you any guidance because they don’t really know,” said Sarah, explaining that some are able to make a complete recovery, while others never really recover at all. “There’s really nothing that says, ‘This is what’s going to happen. This is your outlook.’”
Landon spent the next 14 weeks at Madonna Rehabilitation Center in Lincoln, Neb., undergoing physical and occupational therapy. During that time, he went from a wheelchair to a walker to two canes to one cane to walking without needing any assistance.
In November, he traveled to Huron for the state volleyball tournament, then back to Onida to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family before returning to the rehab center.
On Dec. 15, Landon was finally able to return home for good.
“They already wanted me back on the track last spring,” laughed Landon, who continues to do therapy in nearby Pierre. “I was like, let’s just wait until football. This year when football came around, I made sure I was going to be around.”
Talk to anyone about Landon and the scene Friday night in Herreid, and it won’t be long before they begin gushing about the young man’s character and resilience.
Through the entire ordeal, Sarah says her son never once complained or asked, “Why me?”
“He’s taken everything like a champ,” she said. “He’s mentally strong, and that definitely has helped in the recovery process. He’s a determined kid with a positive attitude.”
In the final seconds of Friday night’s game, Herreid/Selby coach Clayton Randall, whose son Clayton II is close friends with Landon, made sure the Sully Buttes freshman had his moment.
“I had no idea that Landon was even on the football team until he took the field Friday night,” explained Randall, who called timeout to set up the scenario. “During the timeout, one of my assistant coaches and I went to the official, told him what we wanted to do and got the message relayed over to their coaches.”
As he neared the 20-yard line, one of Landon’s teammates told him that once he scored, he had to spike the ball.
“Spike it?” Landon replied. “I don’t want to get flagged.”
“I’ll let you spike it,” said the referee as he walked alongside the pack of players. “But it better be a good one or I’m going to flag you.”
So as he crossed the goal line, Landon reared back and triumphantly thrust the ball toward the turf. Moments later, he was carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates, putting the final flourish on a feel-good Friday night.
“It’s kind of amazing, in a sense, when we look at where we were just a year ago,” Sarah said. “He’s a phenomenal kid.”