HAVRE – Just two months into his junior year at Scobey High School, Spartan quarterback CJ Nelson had the ball and was rolling out, looking for a gap in the Ennis Mustangs’ defense when he was caught from behind by an Ennis defender.
From there, the nightmare began for CJ and his family.
The nightmare does have a happy ending, however, as CJ was wrapping up an All-State Class C basketball career playing in the Hi-Line Invitational this weekend at the MSU-Northern Armory.
“When he tackled me, my facemask stuck in the ground, and then he rolled up on top of me,” Nelson said, remembering that play in Ennis in November, 2016. “My head just curled under my body.”
Two days later came the diagnosis from his doctors. His neck was broken.
“It was one of those freak things,” CJ’s father, Kevin Nelson, said. “We had doctors look at him right there on the field.
“He wasn’t concussed or anything, and he wanted to stay at the field. As a parent, you look back and wish you had done a few things different in that situation, but he did take the bus trip home.”
That bus trip from Ennis was just over eight hours – 541 miles.
“By the time we got home, he called me off the bus and said, ‘Something isn’t right.'” Kevin Nelson said. “We went to the emergency room the next day and they told us his neck was broken.”
It was his C4 vertebrae. Kevin said only three percent of those who sustain this type of injury walk away from it.
CJ Nelson was able to walk away. It took three months in a neck brace, and considerable physical therapy.
“After that third month, we went back to the doctor in Billings, and he wouldn’t clear him to play football,” Kevin Nelson said. “But in our mind, that wasn’t going to happen anyway.
“We worked him out probably three weeks before he took the floor again, as far as the physical running and stuff. But his muscles did atrophy. We did have him bench pressing and using individual weights, and when he first started, he could only lift 10 pounds with his right arm (throwing arm).”
But CJ Nelson was able to come back, and the final weekend of the 2016-17 regular season, he took the floor to head guide the Spartans to a third-place finish at the State C Basketball tournament.
This year, with CJ on the point, the Spartans finished fourth at the state tourney in Butte. Nelson was an All-State Class C selection, and was picked to play alongside the best Class C players in the state at the HIT this weekend.
“He’s still having some lingering effects from the injury, but he’s come a long way,” the elder Nelson said. “It’s one of those type of injuries that make you take an entire new view at life.”