Tyler Story sits on the training table at the Decatur Fieldhouse getting a tape job before his daily workout.
The tape starts around his right foot and snakes up his leg past one of the five lengthy scars on his right leg that mark the long journey to this point where he’s back on two feet, running and thinking about returning to the football field.
“No one thought I’d be here,” said Story. “Some thought I wouldn’t have a leg.”
Story is scheduled for an exam with Dr. Dan Cooper Aug. 15 to determine if he’ll be able to play football and basketball his senior year – 10 months after tearing every ligament in his knee and developing a blood clot that almost cost him his right leg.
Tyler still has dropfoot from a dead nerve in his right leg and a brace that keeps his foot at a 90-degree angle along with the tape job giving him mobility.
“At this point it’s 50-50,” said Decatur head coach Kyle Story about the chances of his son playing football again. “It depends on how the workout goes Aug. 15, and maybe by district he can return.
“I’ve got mixed emotions about it. He’s healthy now, and you don’t want to risk it again and make sure he can walk normal. But he’s a competitor and loves to compete. I’d hate to see him miss out on that part of his life.”
Football is ingrained in Tyler’s family. His mother Teena’s father, Don Poe, coached at Sulphur Springs and South Garland, and her uncle was the longtime coach at McKinney. Many of his cousins are coaches.
His father played for the legendary Gordon Wood in Brownwood and found his way to coaching.
“Football has been such a part of our family,” Teena Story said. “My dad is a coach. His dad is a coach. The family was looking forward to Tyler playing football.
“Since he was little, Tyler’s dream was always playing for his dad. That night shattered a lot of dreams.”
At the start of his junior year, Tyler broke in as one of the Eagles’ receivers and defensive backs. The dependable hands he put on display during 7-on-7 over the summer had him in line to have a strong season for the Eagles.
In the season-opening win against Whitesboro, Tyler did not have a reception, but he did make three tackles on defense.
The next week against Gainesville, he found himself starting on both sides of the football.
On the Leopards’ first possession, Tyler made a tackle to help the Eagles get the ball back.
Back on offense, Tyler lined up at receiver for the play called 69 speed.
“I ran a 5-yard out, and I remember looking at Garrett [Muehlstein] and him throwing me the ball,” Tyler recalled.
Tyler made the catch with a Gainesville defensive back in close quarters just in front of his own sideline, giving his father and Decatur trainer Fernando Escobar an up-close view of what was about to happen.
“I saw it coming,” Coach Story said. “His foot was in the ground. He caught the ball, and before he could turn there was the helmet on the knee.”
Escobar added: “It happened five yards in front of me. You wish you could yell or do something when it happened.
“I knew it was going to be a significant injury. I knew something structurally was wrong and had the total knee mechanism in mind.”
Coach Story finished calling plays for the series and then checked with Escobar and the team doctor on the sidelines.
“They said it was definitely loose and definitely had some ligament damage,” he recalled.
As a family that’s been around football as long as they have, the Storys knew that these kind of injuries happened.
“With my dad coaching all his life, I’ve seen hurt knees,” Teena Story said. “They told me he probably tore everything, but I knew that was fixable.”
Tyler doesn’t remember much from the first few minutes after the hit.
“I was in shock,” he said. “I don’t think it hurt, but I knew something was wrong. After a minute or two, it started hurting bad. I didn’t know if I broke my leg or what was going on. I’ve been through much like that. During the game they wouldn’t tell me much. The next morning, I got the MRI.”
The MRI confirmed that all the major ligaments – ACL, MCL and PCL – in his right knee were torn.
“When I got the MRI, it was too serious for them to deal with, so they sent me to Dr. Cooper,” Tyler said.
His leg was checked to make sure he was getting the proper blood flow into the main artery running down the leg that Saturday.
“They felt a pulse when they did the MRI,” Coach Story said.
RUSH TO SURGERY
It was Labor Day weekend, and the earliest that Tyler could get in to see Dr. Cooper was Wednesday.
The Storys expected to have a normal appointment and schedule the knee surgery. The doctor checked the leg for a pulse and ordered a CAT scan to check the artery.
“When he got the results back, I had a blood clot, and he sent me straight to Presbyterian to have emergency surgery,” Tyler said.
The doctor’s orders to go directly to the hospital and the staff being on standby to perform the surgery immediately didn’t fully register with the Storys.
“We were like, ‘we can’t, Kyle has football practice and has to be back,’” Teena Story recalled. “He said, ‘you don’t understand. Go get in your car. I’ve got a surgeon waiting.’ I still didn’t understand how serious it was until we came wheeling in and once we said his name – Tyler Story – they started scrambling and got him back quick.”
The Storys were told that the blood flow in the leg was interrupted, and doctors warned that they might not be able to save his right leg and foot.
“You don’t want to think about your son losing a foot or a leg,” Coach Story said.
Tyler underwent what was supposed to be a less than two-hour procedure to open up the artery. It actually took more than five hours with a second surgeon having to be brought in.
“They told us we were not out of the woods,” Coach Story said. “They didn’t know if the bypass would take.
“They had to do the fasciotomy to keep the artery from collapsing.”
Tyler was put in intensive care at Presbyterian to wait and see how he would respond to the procedures.
With Decatur scheduled to play a Thursday night game at Wichita Falls against Hirschi, Coach Story had to decide if he would try to be on the sidelines or stay at the hospital.
“He kept telling me to go, and in 24 years of coaching I had never missed a game, but I figured I better stay there with him in ICU,” Coach Story said. “They only scored 52 points without me there.”
With his son still in the hospital, Story returned the following week to coach against Ranchview. But each day, he was commuting between Dallas and Decatur.
“I didn’t feel worn out,” Coach Story said. “We had so many people praying for us. The power of prayer and how inspiring it was during that time.”
Teena Story never left the hospital.
“I wasn’t going to leave if my baby was going to be there,” she said.
She stayed with him during the night, and occasionally when his father or other family members would be there, she would retreat to a hotel room at the hospital to shower. It was during these times that she would let out some of her emotions.
“Sometimes I’d stay up there for two hours and come apart, and then get myself back together before I’d come down,” Teena Story said.
She said others’ prayers kept her going. But one day it seemed too much, as Tyler’s bandages were being changed and she saw the pain he was in. She found herself questioning why this was happening.
“I went up to take a shower when this man walked in front of me to get on the elevator,” Teena Story said. “I looked over and saw that his right leg was amputated from the knee down. God placed this man there for me to see that it could be worse. He still has a leg.”
ROAD TO RECOVERY
Dr. Cooper, a veteran doctor who has worked with professional athletes, told the Storys that he struggled to make sense of Tyler’s recovery after five days of restricted blood flow to his lower leg.
“He said, ‘I can’t tell you why he still has a leg,’” Teena Story said.
Tyler would spend a total of 16 days in the hospital. He entertained himself with his computer and video games, and visitors were constantly streaming in.
“It was the hardest on my parents,” he said. “I was drugged up and didn’t think about much. Dad was driving back and forth, and mom was staying there. I did get sick of being in there.”
On Sept. 23, the day the Eagles headed to Iowa Park, Tyler was released from the hospital.
“When they wheelchaired me out and to feel the fresh air felt so good,” Tyler said. “It was good to be back in my house.”
Coach Story missed his second game in three weeks after his son was released from the hospital late in the day.
The following Thursday, the day the Eagles played Burkburnett, a skin graft was scheduled to close up the wounds on Tyler’s calf where the fasciotomy was performed. Two areas of skin from Tyler’s left thigh were used in the procedure.
Because of traffic getting back, Coach Story arrived shortly before kickoff.
“I got there at 7:20 about 10 minutes before kickoff,” he said. “The kids erupted. It was like a movie moment. They cared about Tyler and wanted me to be with them. We went out and played a really good game.”
Oct. 7 for the Battle of Big Sandy in Bridgeport, Tyler was back on the field, watching his teammates from his wheelchair on the sidelines.
“It was good to see everyone, but it was hard to watch,” Tyler said.
While his teammates tried to include him, he felt disconnected.
“I haven’t felt the same since,” he said. “Unless I’m out there playing, I feel I shouldn’t be a part of it.”
Tyler spent six weeks in the wheelchair. He actually surprised his parents by walking from the living room to the kitchen even before he was supposed to be on his feet. It’s a moment they captured on film.
“We both videoed it with our phones,” Coach Story said. “I still get emotional watching him walk without his brace.”
After doctors were able to save his leg, Tyler still needed an extensive reconstructive surgery to his right knee, and that was followed by months of rehab with Escobar and Brett Braziel at Fit-N-Wise.
“He’s a strong-willed kid,” Escobar said. “He never expressed ‘why me’ or gave a negative expression. He battled through every inch of pain. I’ve never seen a kid as strong-willed and determined.”
Tyler goes to Fit-N-Wise every Monday and Wednesday to work with physical trainers to regain flexibility and strength in his leg.
On June 9, he visited Dr. Cooper, who asked him what he wanted to do.
“I told him I wanted to play football and basketball my senior year,” Tyler said. “At first he said straight on, ‘You’re not playing football.’”
The doctor then made a deal with Tyler, giving him the release to start running again and asking him to come back in mid-August for a reassessment.
He’s been running since with the help of his brace and lots of medical tape.
“I can run full speed,” he said. “I’ve not quite been released to move laterally. I’m sure I’m a lot slower.”
Escobar said this week Tyler showed great improvement – despite his dropfoot – with a new tape job they are trying.
“He’s really close,” Escobar said.
Teena Story praised his trainers for their work with him.
“Brett and Fernando have been so wonderful,” she said. “He sees more of them than he does his friends. They’ve worked so hard with him.”
GOOD FROM THE BAD
Tyler has a month of work ahead of him before he finds out whether his football career is over.
Since the injury, he and his family have tried to avoid asking why this happened to him. He admits there’s been some ups and downs.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” Tyler said. “Sometimes I doubt myself, and then I see something and think I can be back.”
He’s also found the positives that have come from the near-life-changing scare.
“My mom and I were not that close, and then she never left me the whole six or seven months that I was laid up,” he said. “We’re a lot closer. My faith is also a lot stronger. I realized what the Lord can do. It’s a miracle that I’ve still got my foot and can walk. I could be in a wheelchair.”
Coach Story said it’s definitely impacted him.
“I told Teena that I hate for it to happen to anyone, but I’d rather it be with my son than someone else’s,” he said. “It made me more compassionate with others with injuries after going through something like this.”
While Tyler was in the hospital and after, several members of the community rallied to give the Storys support and raise money through auctions to offset medical expenses.
“The show of support for Tyler and our family was more than we ever dreamed of,” Coach Story said. “That’s when you know that you’re in the right place, and you see how much love people have for you.”
Tyler took part in 7-on-7 scrimmages with the Eagles this summer, snapping the ball and occasionally throwing a few passes.
He’s hopeful that come September he’s back on the field without limitations.
“I can’t describe what that will be like,” Tyler said. “It’ll definitely be amazing.”
His parents still worry, but they will support him.
“I’m struggling with that and will cross that bridge when I get there,” Teena Story said. “If it was his junior year, I’d say let’s not chance it. But he’s a senior, and I don’t want him to miss out on that and not be part of the team.”