A little more than six months ago, Jesse Savage had the football game of his life.

It might have been the best and most versatile individual performance of the season by any Tipton County player during the 2019 season.

The hyper-athletic 6-3 junior threw for completions on two fake punts, one of which went for a touchdown. He also connected on three extra points and three field goals, the last of which came in overtime and gave the Cougars a crucial 30-27 overtime win vs. Kirby.

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“I just had to calm myself down and do what was best for the team,” Savage said Oct. 18 after kicking the winning field goal. “I had to think about the team and do what I was supposed to do.”

Now Savage is facing a much bigger challenge than kicking a pressure-packed field goal.  He’s paralyzed from the chest down, unable to use his arms or legs or breathe without assistance.

On the morning of March 31, Savage’s Chevy Silverado fishtailed on rain-slicked Girl Scout Road, hit an embankment and flipped an estimated six times.

A postal worker happened to be in the area and called 911. Savage was airlifted to Regional One Health Medical Center in Memphis with a collapsed lung, broken neck and stretched spinal cord.

Savage was flown to Shepherd Center in Atlanta 13 days later and that’s where will be for a while.

His dad, Eddie Savage, has not left the hospital since. He probably would not have left anyway, but because of COVID-19 precautions, he can’t leave and no one else can come in.

The prognosis at Regional One was not good, but Eddie Savage and his son are remaining upbeat.

Eddie said his son has asked “Why me?” a couple of times, but he’s taking the challenge of recovery with determination, the same way he did things on the football field.

“I just told him we can’t think about why,” Eddie said Friday afternoon while next to his son in the Atlanta hospital. “We just have to look forward. I think he understands. The thing that we have to do is worry about where we are right now and how we’re going to handle it going forward. People are shocked when I tell them how calm he is about it. I’m shocked. I tell him we can’t go back and relive that day, but what we can do is worry about the treatment now and do everything we can do get as well as we can.”

Slade Calhoun, who was hired earlier this year as Munford’s head coach after serving as an assistant, met Jesse two years ago when he was a freshman. Calhoun watched him blossom into one of the best players on the team.

“He’s just a tremendous kid,” Calhoun said. “He always has a great attitude. I can’t remember him ever complaining, the type of kid you like to coach. Fun to be around, always laughing and joking.”

When a player suffers a tragedy like this, typically there are team meetings to help players cope. With COVID-19 restricting everything, those things aren’t possible.

“It’s hard to get a read on it because we haven’t been together as a team since it happened,” Calhoun said when asked how Savages’s teammates are dealing with the situation.  “We couldn’t go to the hospital to visit. Sports is a great thing and you can use it as a tool to learn a lot of life lessons, but in the grand scheme of things there are a lot of things that are a lot more important. I think this puts everything in perspective for them.”

Savage has the ability to speak, but a trach tube that helps him breathe prevents him from talking most of the time. Last Wednesday, however, Savage had the trach tube out for a bit and talked via Facetime to Dalton Dickerson, his stepbrother who is a wide receiver for Covington High School.

With playing football likely over, he’s already thinking about future career possibilities.

“Dalton,” Jesse said, “I’m going to be your personal trainer. You are going to make it to the NFL and I am gong to work your butt off.”

Dalton and Jesse have been very close for a decade.

“Dalton just got super emotional,” Eddie said. “That’s the kind of relationship they have. He knows he probably can’t play football, but he wants to be a part of it no matter what.”

Jesse gets in a wheel chair that he can control with his breath about four hours a day. On Monday physical therapy will begin and as that progresses doctors at Shepherd Center will have a better feel for how much he can recover and how long it will take.

“They will do a full evaluation of what he can regain and determine the best course of action,” Eddie said. “It could take two weeks or six months. It depends on how well he does and how his body reacts … They’ll give me their best professional opinion and they’ll come up with a goal or a plan then.”

The response from the community has been huge. Eddie Savage and others have been posting updates on Jesse via social media and hundreds of people have offered prayers and words of encouragement. The Munford band recently donated $1,200 and Dairy Queen in Atoka has been raising money. A Go Fund Me page has raised $9,000. You can donate here.

“The community has been fantastic,” Eddie said. “The outpouring of love has been amazing. They’ve just adopted this kid. I’ve tried to thank everybody, but it’s hard to express how thankful we are.”

Jesse Savage kicks the winning field goal last October in an overtime win vs. Kirby. Photo by Jeff Ireland

Jesse could have gloated a little after kicking the winning field goal in that game back in October, but all he talked about was helping his team. Although he’s been dealt a terrible hand, he still has a great attitude in the face of an uncertain future.

“The kid is in great spirits,” Eddie said. “He’s absolutely taking this like a champ. He’s willing to work hard and he’s got the best attitude in the world.”