KAMAS, Summit County — South Summit junior Porter Hancock worked tirelessly throughout the football season to inch his way up the Wildcats' varsity depth chart at linebacker and running back. Last Friday the hard work finally paid off as his coaching staff awarded him his first start against Emery.
Tragedy struck in the third quarter of his long-awaited start when Hancock suffered a dislocated neck and was paralyzed from the chest down after tackling Emery's punter following a fumbled snap.
"Porter finished off the tackle. It was nothing big. I'm telling you, you watch it on film and it's nothing. He turned his head the wrong way," said South Summit coach Jerry Parker.
"I went out and helped strap him on the board, and I knew it was pretty serious. You just knew. I just told the kids let's play to the end and then let's talk about it. We said a prayer and sent them home," Parker said.
Hancock was taken to University of Utah Hospital on Friday night and underwent surgery for the dislocated neck on Saturday morning in which two discs were removed. Doctors aren't telling the family that the paralysis is permanent.
"We're definitely planning on him recovering. We're feeling awful bad that football's out for him right now, that's his life. But I think as a whole we're definitely thinking he's going to walk out of there," Parker said.
Hancock had hundreds of visitors throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday, and he was breathing on his own and speaking just fine.
"Family, parents, friends, football kids, the student body, even kids he didn't hang around were down there. It struck home for sure," said Parker.
There were some breathing complications late Sunday as fluid began to build up in his lungs as he was placed on a respirator.
Monday he began to show positive signs of recovery. The feeling in his arms started to get stronger and stronger, and he's even able to grip objects. He still had no sensation below his chest.
There was a somber feeling at South Summit High School on Monday, which carried over to practice after school.
"Our Monday practices are always pretty low key anyway, so it was pretty low key. A few kids are really struggling. But I thought it was good for them to get out there and run around," said Parker.
"I think they understand Porter wants them to carry on. We're just going to proceed normally as much as possible and then get down there and check on Porter as much as they can."
Hancock is the second Utah high school student to suffer a paralysis injury in the past year, and coach Parker said the parallels between the two are chilling. Back in January, Wasatch wrestler Dale Lawrence was paralyzed from the neck down after suffering an injury during wrestling practice. Lawrence's mother and Hancock's mother both work at Walmart in Park City.
"Everything that Wasatch went through a lot of our community was right there, too. It's very eerie," Parker said.
South Summit plays at Gunnison this Friday, and the players openly admit they're playing for Hancock now.
"We've always tried to play together as a team and for each other," said South Summit teammate Jay Reidhead. "But now we're not only playing for each other, but mainly for him."
Family and friends of Hancock are paying tribute by changing their profile pictures on Facebook to an image that says, "Porter Hancock, We Love You."