Nicholas Housley thought his athletics career and possibly his life were over when the SUV he was riding in flipped seven times.
That was April 17, 2013 – an accident that claimed the life of one of Housley’s best friends Cody Mauldin, a fellow Airline High School student.
Housley said Mauldin is constantly in his thoughts, but more than one year later, Housley took a huge step in obtaining what he hopes is a future in college track and field.
At the recent LHSAA state track meet at LSU, Housley — who attended Evangel this year as a senior — finished second in the Class 3A 400 meter run with a time of 49.69, adding to the three relay teams on which he participated.
Housley’s journey the past year wasn’t an easy one, overcoming the much deeper mental and emotional scars after the physical ones healed.
“It had crossed my mind that my whole career might have been over,” Housley said. “I had lost all hope. I thought I didn’t have a chance.
“I still think about Cody. I felt like I survived the wreck by the grace of God and am blessed that I could go to Evangel and achieve something like this.”
All Housley heard as the SUV his friend Joshua Gibson was driving exited the Interstate 220 off ramp at Swan Lake Road was ‘hold on.’
“I looked up and we were drifting back toward the road trying to avoid a sign,” Housley recalls. “I guess (Gibson) overcorrected, and we fish tailed and flipped a total of seven times.
“About the third time I got knocked out with my head smacking the window.”
Housley and Gibson, who were both wearing seat belts, remained in the car. Mauldin, who didn’t have a seatbelt on, was ejected from the vehicle.
Housley remembers stepping out of the vehicle and seeing Mauldin on the ground.
“I knew I had hurt my knee really bad, and all the skin was ripped off my shoulder — but I couldn’t feel it,” Housley said. “I looked down the road, and (Mauldin) was on the ground. I was emotional. I couldn’t grasp the situation, and I was confused.”
Mauldin died later of his injuries in the hospital. Housley and Gibson received relatively minor injuries.
Housley’s phsyical ailments, a severe knee injury and shoulder dislocation, healed rather quickly.
But Housley had difficulty readjusting mentally upon returning to the Airline program, and he and his family decided he should return to Evangel, where he attended school as a freshman before financial difficulties forced him to leave.
Road to recovery
Juan Plaza, who has been Housley’s summer track coach since the sprinter started in the sport as a sixth grader, knew Housley had a long road back.
“He’s a good kid that went through a difficult time … and it affected him mentally and physically,” Plaza said. “He had a hard time coping with the situation, but he’s bounced back and really regained his form.”
Housley couldn’t compete this past summer, but he rehabbed quickly.
He was out of his arm sling in about three weeks. Initially his leg was immobilized, but his knee recovered fully in less than two months.
His muscles received an electric shock therapy in weekly rehab, and by the time football season rolled around, Housley was “100 percent” physically.
The defensive back received an LHSAA hardship waiver to become immediately eligible at Evangel.
“He was still getting over the tragedy and transitioning back to reality,” said Evangel head football and track coach Byron Dawson. “Evangel is a place for the hurt and wounded — it’s a place for someone hurting or needing a second chance.
“It’s perfect that he came back to Evangel.”
Housley played sparingly at cornerback but was a regular special teams contributor.
He had recovered physically using football as a training tool, but his real resurgence came mentally through grief counseling, which he participated in until this January.
“I would write letters to Cody,” Housley said. “It’s hard to explain the pain that I felt, and it was way harder to come back emotionally (than physically).
“We hung out all the time, and he had a really big heart. I had to put my mind to something positive. I feel a lot stronger than I did. I’m still traumatized by it, but I feel closer to God now.”
Back on track
Housley grew up running around the fields of Pelican in DeSoto Parish, and he was steered toward track by stepfather Bruce Hendricks II, who is part of Parkway High’s record 4X400 relay team.
Now he returned to his sport and was ready to get his career — and life — back on track.
“It took me about four to five weeks to get back into track shape,” Housley said. “The team practiced during school, but since I was taking a full class schedule, I practiced after school.
“(Relay runners) stayed after school extra time so we could work on handoffs. We would push tires around the field to build our power. It didn’t take long for me to get my speed back up.”
Housley, who developed relationships with fellow football players like Roland Dunn, Jerry Tillery and Chris Bradley, was part of Evangel’s best track season in program history.
The Eagles won their first district and regional titles, and their third-place finish in Class 3A at the state meet was also a program high.
Housley entered his first state meet with the seventh-best time in Class 3A in the 400 while the 4X100, 4X200 and 4X400 relays were set to score points.
“The 400 has been my best event, and even though it was my first time at state, I have run at the junior olympics in front of crowds,” said Housley, who placed eighth in the 400 nationally as an eighth grader. “We’ve got great guys on our relays like Roland and Nick Eikeseth — really powerful runners.
“It just felt great knowing that we achieved so much during the season.”
Housley ran a personal record in the 400 (49.69) to finish second in 3A. Two relays placed fourth and one fifth in 3A.
“We had just eight guys total at the state meet, but those were eight quality guys,” Dawson said. “Nick was a big part of what we did … and when he came, I didn’t think he believed he could still do it.
“But then things started happening, and once again, God came through.”
Plaza, who had his Byrd squad at the state meet, saw something from Housley he hadn’t seen in awhile — a smile.
“It was cool to see him smile again at a track meet,” Plaza said. “The 400 brought him success heading into high school, and it was the race that brought him success at the end of his high school career.
“He’s achieved some of his goals, and he has to be hungry to go further and run.”
Plaza said if Housley can shave his 400 time close to 48 seconds in the upcoming summer track season, he could be in line for a college opportunity.
It would perhaps be the final step in reconstructing a world that was flipped upside down in an SUV more than a year ago.