Fort Myers High School quarterback T.J. Douglas did not realize he suffered a concussion during a game against Charlotte High last season.
Neither did his coaches.
Douglas finished the game, a Sept. 30 loss in which he rushed for 47 yards and passed for 153 yards.
After the game, Fort Myers coach Sam Sirianni Jr. noticed Douglas drifting off to sleep in the locker room. Sirianni realized something was wrong.
“You could tell he wasn’t himself after the game,” Sirianni Jr. said. “Our trainer looked at him. We had him checked out on Monday. All the scans checked out for him, but it was pretty much a given that he wouldn’t play that week at that point.”
Concussions have been in the national conversation, with their after effects being studied more closely. The rules changing on all levels of football in order to prevent and better care for concussions should they occur.
Douglas recalled the hit.
“It was an option play,” he said. “I knew I was going to get the hit. I just didn’t know how bad it was going to be. I’ve got to give him credit for that. It was a legal hit. He just got me up under my chin.”
There was just one problem with Douglas being told to sit out the following week.
The Green Wave had Island Coast looming, a district opponent with postseason implications. Douglas told his coaches he felt fine. He wanted to play.
It didn’t matter.
“That’s one of the things you try to educate the kids on,” Sirianni said. “When you don’t feel right, you let people know. At the end of the day, all you have to rely on is the kid being honest.
“For every real severe concussion, where the kid gets knocked out and you know, you’ve got kids in the trenches making contact on every play. That’s what you’ve got to watch out for.”
Douglas, a senior and a Division I recruit who has verbally committed to play, most likely at wide receiver, at Duke University next fall, said he learned some valuable lessons from last year’s experience.
Fort Myers lost that game to Island Coast 37-7, with Douglas watching from the sidelines. Fort Myers ended up winning the district and making the playoffs.
“I really wanted to play that game,” Douglas said. “Our season was depending on that game.”
Looking back, however, Douglas said he realized that sitting out was in his best interests, regardless of his team’s situation.
“I’m going to tell them,” Douglas said of what he would do this season, should he suffer another concussion. “I don’t want to do any more damage to my brain. I’d rather just sit out a week or two than have my brain mushed later on.”