For 12 years, Bryson Brown has played football.
"Ever since I was old enough to start youth football," Brown said. "Mighty Mites, that was me."
But Brown recently went through a tragedy, or a blessing in disguise, depending on one’s perception.
"I went down against Skiatook and I got tackled by the ankles and my head hit the ground," Claremore's senior fullback/defensive end said. "It bent backwards and pinched a nerve in my neck."
During a trip to the doctor the following day, he got the grim news.
"I took an MRI and they found out I have spinal stenosis," Brown said. "It is the narrowing of the spinal column. They said they would recommend me not playing football ever again."
Brown had put his heart and soul into football. He was planning on walking on to the University of Oklahoma football team next fall.
"That can't happen now," Brown said.
Spinal stenosis is becoming more commonly known in athletes. The narrowing of the spinal column makes them more susceptible to permanent damage or possibly paralysis. According to the Mayo Clinic, spinal stenosis is more common in people over the age of 50. But Brown's diagnosis is genetic. It is a tough break, or the best break he ever got.
"It's going to be tough, but I'll get over it," he said. "If it's the right decision not to play football again, then I'll make that decision. I’d rather not play football than wind up in a wheelchair."
Following the doctor's bad news, Brown now needed to tell his coach, Jarrett Hurt, that he wouldn't be able to go down the stretch run with the Zebras as they finished off the regular season and entered the playoffs.
"Bryson sent me a text to let me know about it," Hurt said. "I was devastated for him. I hurt for him because he had put so much into this year and his career, and I hurt for him because he was not longer going to be able to play."
The pain is still fresh for Brown. He is still on the sideline with his teammates, but wears his jersey without pads. He is a cheerleader now, rooting his team into the postseason. It was especially tough that first week after the diagnosis.
"Against Pryor, it was tough because that's a big rivalry," Brown said. "Then Tahlequah, or course. I wish could have helped my team, and maybe we could have won. Now we're in the playoffs and I can't help the team. I really miss being on the field with the guys and having that connection on the field."
While Hurt aches for Brown, he also will miss him on the field. He played offense, defense and special teams. That's hard to replace.
"Bryson is a great kid," Hurt said. "Selfless. Willing to do whatever the team needed him to do. He had a heck of a year for us. Bryson led by example. He was always where he was supposed to be and doing what he was supposed to be doing, working hard with a great attitude."
Spinal stenosis is not a part of the regular athletic physicals. Most of the time, it is detected when an athlete is being checked out for another injury, like in Brown's case. But luckily, it wasn't too late for the Zebra senior.
"It's not something that is found during a routine physical," Hurt said. "I think an MRI costs about $1,000."
Hurt said Brown has fought through injuries before, but this one was too much to overcome.
"He's one of our toughest kids," Hurt said. "He's battled injuries that he's come back from, but this one is a genetic thing that you don't come back from. He probably shouldn't have been playing in the first place. I'm really glad we found out so he can live a long, safe and productive life."
Brown has a glass-half-full mentality — he is going to move on with his post-high school plans.
"I'm going to go to OU now and go into medical school," Brown said. "I've always been interested in the medical field."
Still, Brown will miss football. He will miss his teammates and coaches and a chance to maybe play for OU. But med school is waiting, and you can bet Brown will still be at those OU football games in the student section.
"It's definitely emotional," Brown said. "Football has always been a huge part of my life. We've always been a football family, born and raised into football. It's tough to get over, but I'm trying."