NEW IBERIA — April 5, 2010 was a day that began like every other day for Jacob Polk.
But by the time it ended, though, April 5, 2010 would forever change Polk’s outlook on life.
On that day, New Iberia Senior High linebacker was a passenger in a one-car accident that nearly claimed his life.
While that worst-case scenario fortunately wasn’t realized for the freshman or either of the other two occupants in the vehicle, the accident did potentially end what many believed to be the beginning of athletic stardom for Polk.
“I had a baseball game that day and one of my friends called me to see if I wanted to go riding with him because he had just gotten a car,” Polk recalled. “There were a couple of hours before the game was going to start, so I was like OK.”
As they rode around and unsuccessfully picked up another friend who wasn’t home at the time, Polk began to notice a change in how quickly things on the outside of the vehicle were passing by.
“He just started speeding,” Polk recalled. “I asked him what he was doing and why he was driving so fast. He told me that he wanted to test out how fast his new car could go. I told him to slow down and before I knew it we were up to 100 mph. I noticed a curve was coming up and the road was wet and I remember us hydroplaning off of the road and then blacking out.”
When Polk came to, his friend’s car had gone off of the road and he had gone through the windshield.
“I had gone through the front windshield and I remember rubbing my head and blood was just pouring out,” Polk said. “From that point on, I remember asking everyone to just call my mom.”
Polk was airlifted to Lafayette General Medical Center where his family was informed how lucky he was to be alive and that he suffered serious injuries that included a fractured skull, broken collarbone, punctured kidney, liver and broken ribs.
“I thought I was going to die,” Polk said. “It was really scary. I was losing so much blood that I really believed that I was going to die. I remember telling my mom and my family just how much I loved them, because I really thought I was gone.”
According to doctors, had it not been for Polk being airlifted to the hospital he very well could have died.
“The doctors said because I had lost so much blood from the punctured liver and kidney that if it would have taken a couple of seconds longer I would have died,” Polk said. “All of my injuries were on the right side of my body. It was really a scary situation and I’m really thankful to be alive.”
Although Polk survived the accident, he was later told the words by doctors that no athlete ever wants to hear.
“You will never be able to play football again,” Polk recalled the doctor saying. “They told me I would never touch a football field again as a player and that they weren’t sure if I’d ever be able to play any sports again.”
It was at that moment, for a split second, that Polk questioned why he survived the accident at all.
“I just remember crying,” Polk said. “I remember being scared and very emotional. I remember asking to myself, ‘why am I here if I can’t play sports?’ I remember feeling like my life was pointless if I couldn’t play sports.”
But it didn’t take long for Polk to see the greater purpose in his survival and to realize the lesson being taught to him through his accident.
“I took life for granted before my accident,” Polk said. “That accident and almost losing my life has made me a better person. I definitely take life a lot more seriously than I did before the accident.”
More than his athletic ability as a three-sport athlete in football, basketball and baseball for the Yellow Jackets, New Iberia head football coach Rick Hutson was concerned about Polk’s well-being than whether he would ever return to the playing field.
“Jacob was definitely one of the better freshmen players that we had that year,” Hutson said. “He was definitely in the top four or five and we were excited about his potential not only as a linebacker, but as a running back. But none of that mattered after the accident. Everyone was just relieved that he was alive and all we wanted was for him to get better.”
Polk did get better.
It took some time. With each passing day, however, not only did Polk get better, he became more confident. He became more confident academically and more confident athletically.
“He was beat up pretty badly in that accident,” Hutson said. “There was another passenger in that car that lost their arm, so that tells you how bad the accident was. But I remember the first day he came up to me his sophomore year and told me, ‘Coach I’m going to come back and play football. I’m going to be back.’ I was just like. ‘OK Jacob.'”
First, Polk made the return to basketball only months removed from the accident that almost took his life and then returned the baseball diamond in the spring of his sophomore year.
But he still hadn’t been cleared to play football, the sport he loves.
After missing out on his junior football season, Polk received the news in the spring that he had been waiting to hear ever since he began his journey back to the gridiron — “You can play football.”
“That was a great feeling,” Polk said of when he was told of the news. “My mom was scared for me to go back and play football, but my dad understood. I had to return to the football field. I was determined to help my team out as much as I possibly could.”
Hutson never doubted Polk would one day return to the football field. He knew how successful he can be when he puts his mind to do something.
“If it had been someone else other than Jacob, I would be surprised that he is back playing football two years later,” Hutson said. “But because it is Jacob I’m not surprised at all. We held him out the entire spring even though he had been cleared, because we were a little hesitant about it. But the doctor told us that he is in no more danger playing football today than he was prior to the accident.”
Although he is back playing the game he loves, Polk admits he’s not the same person that suits up every Friday night.
“I’m a better person than I was before the accident,” Polk said. “I find that I work a lot harder in the classroom and in practice than I did before the accident. I’m just not going to take life for granted anymore, because at any moment you can be gone. Sports are still important to me, but my education and my family are my life. I’m enjoying every minute being out on that field with my teammates.”
Hutson is confident well after Polk has graduated from New Iberia, his story will continue to be told, especially to those who find things to be tough.
“For years to come, Jacob’s story will be an inspiration to everyone,” Hutson said. “It doesn’t have to be an NFL or college player to have an inspirational story; we have one right here with Jacob. For years down the road we will be talking about everything he had to overcome in order to play the game that he loves.”
Follow assistant sports editor Eric Narcisse on Twitter @tdanarcisse.