JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - A high school football player is still feeling the impact of a tackle made last fall. Eighteen-year-old Marshall McDaniel didn't know his first and last play of a state play-off game would be a game-changer for life.
It seems life can change in a second; sometimes for good and sometimes for bad. It's what you do with the bad, that some people say defines character.
The defining moment for Marshall takes us back to a Friday night on Jonesboro High School's Cooksey-Johns Field. The band is playing. The crowd yelling for their teams.
It was a picture perfect night. Number 21, Senior Marshall McDaniel prepares for kick-off in the playoff game, Jonesboro versus Texarkana.
"First play. I'm running down the field," said Marshall.
Marshall tackles the return man, goes down and stays down.
"We just thought, well, he's just had the breath knocked out of him and that he was going to be fine," said Ron McDaniel, Marshall's father.
"I looked down at him and said, 'Marshall can you move? Can you move your hands and your feet?" said Sharon McDaniel, Marshall's mother.
Both parents are on the field looking down at their son. He had been knocked temporarily unconscious and sideline emergency professionals weren't taking any chances.
"Last game and everything," said Marshall. "I wanted to go on further."
A trip to the ER at St. Bernards revealed this, a severe break to Marshall's C-6 vertebra.
"It is a round piece of bone," said Dr. Michael S. Muhlbauer, Pediatric Associate Neurosurgeon with LeBonheur Children's Hospital. He performed Marshall's surgery.
"He crushed it like you would crush a Coke can. And it spread out and was pressing against his spinal cord. he didn't have any stability there. So if he would have moved, he would really hurt himself and possibly even paralyzed himself permanently."
The challenge that night: to keep Marshall very still.
"Marshall's injury was about as serious as you can get," said Andy Shatley, a physical therapist with St. Bernards.
Shatley had just received extensive training in this type of injury. He joined the team that moved Marshall ever so carefully at the hospital.
"I was at the hospital with all my football stuff still one... Everything so big and bulky and they're trying to get me through the cat scan and x-rays," said Marshall.
"I don't know if we really knew the severity of it until later on that night," said Sharon.
"And then, when they said we need to get him to LeBonheur as soon as we could, we knew it was it was serious then," said Ron.
Minutes ticked by, and back at the game, news of Marshall's injury swept through the crowd.
"At halftime, we found out that his neck was broken," said Randy Coleman, Jonesboro football coach. "He was headed to LeBonheur. It was like a punch in the stomach."
Another problem arose when the helicopter couldn't get to Jonesboro.
"I was a very foggy night," explained Sharon. "The helicopter got to Marked Tree before it had to turn around. So our local ambulance service brought him."
It would be four days before Marshall could have surgery. Four days of lying completely still.
"We went through the front part of his neck," said Dr. Muhlbauer.
"That's where they took the bone out of my neck and put a titanium strip in there," said Marshall.
A good student, Marshall didn't want to miss school and headed back with a heavy-duty protective brace about two weeks later. But no more football "ever," doctor's orders.
"He knows that God has a plan and he knows that was part of God's plan," said Coach Coleman. "He just accepted it. Never once heard him complain."
Marshall carried on brace and all returning for doctor's visits.
"Well, we still do have some evidence of your spinal cord injury," said a LeBonheur doctor during a recent check-up. "Really?" asked Sharon. "Nothing to worry about?
"No," he said. "Think of this as your scar."
That scar, that life-changing moment, is moving him in a new direction. Marshall's career plans now include a degree in physical therapy.
"I had to look inside of me and just say, 'Hey Marshall. You're fine," explained Marshall. "You just got to forget this and just move on with your life and make something of it.'"
And, he's doing just that. Just last week, Marshall McDaniel graduated just last week from Jonesboro High School. He has an academic scholarship to Arkansas State University.
And, he did play just a bit of baseball this spring. But he spent the biggest part of his senior year cheering on his teammates. That's the way Marshall is. He will tell you, in a heartbeat, he feels truly "lucky."