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August 2, 2014

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Spine injury won’t defeat him

Green Valley High defensive back battles through injury that left him temporarily paralyzed

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Richard Brian

Green Valley High defensive back LaQuan Phillips recovers in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Sunrise Hospital after suffering a bruised spine during a football game against Centennial on Sept. 5, 2008.

Fighting Back

Green Valley defensive back LaQuan Phillips was left temporarily paralyzed after making a tackle in last Friday's game against Centennial. One week later, he's already showing that he's stronger and more determined than ever.

Hoping for a full recovery

Green Valley High defensive back LaQuan Phillips recovers in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Sunrise Hospital after suffering a bruised spine during a football game against Centennial last Friday. Launch slideshow »

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LaQuan Phillips has no problem remembering the play. It's a play he'd like to forget but one he realizes has changed his life forever.

Phillips, a senior defensive back for Green Valley High, was temporarily paralyzed when he bruised his spine making a tackle during Friday night's football game against Centennial.

Six days later, he is still in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Sunrise Hospital. He hasn't been able to walk, but has regained minor movements in his arms and legs.

"I will walk again and be out there helping my teammates," Phillips, 17, said. "I'm staying in good spirits and my teammates are doing the same. They are right here with me."

While doctors say he probably won't be able to walk for at least six weeks, Phillips has his heart set on walking onto the field with his teammates for their most important game of the year. Green Valley plays at Basic Oct. 30 in the annual Henderson Bowl for its last game of the season and Phillips plans on being on the sideline.

Phillips was injured in the second quarter when he collided awkwardly with a teammate while making a tackle. Phillips remembers lying motionless on the turf of Green Valley's home stadium as teammate Derrick Garrett stood over him.

"I remember running across the field and yelling, LaQuan, get up,'" Garrett said. "But he told me he couldn't feel his knee."

Phillips, recovering at the hospital, said he couldn't move or feel anything as he laid on the field. "I didn't panic," he said. "I just prayed."

The game was delayed for about 15 minutes as Phillips was stabilized and transported the hospital. He had a three-hour surgery Sunday to alleviate swelling on his vertebrae and has slowly regained sensation in his arms and legs.

He's been flooded with support from friends, teammates, teachers and a long list of strangers who were compelled to send well wishes after hearing about the incident.

He was shocked to receive a card from football players at neighboring Coronado, one of the Gators' rivals, and has also received messages from his former middle school teachers.

Talk with the people closest to him, however, and they'll say he's the one comforting them. Minutes before his surgery, family and friends gathered in prayer.

Phillips insisted he lead the group.

"He gave the most powerful prayer that left everyone in tears," said Dot Borowick, the grandmother of Phillips' closest friend, R'Shea Sesler, and a woman he refers to as his grandmother.

"He's such a great kid. He'll come over to my house and take out the garbage without me asking. He just gives everything he has to people."

Phillips, who is listed in fair condition, doesn't know how long he'll be at the hospital. Visitors must sanitize their hands before entering the room because he is susceptible to viruses. He's stabilized in a neck brace and has a massaging device on his leg to stimulate movement.

Eventually, he'll be transported out of state to a rehabilitation center that specializes in spine injuries, said Delphine Lakes, his aunt and guardian.

It won't be an easy road back, definitely harder than preparing for a routine Friday night football game, but Phillips is ready to start the process. He can visualize being in uniform with teammates for the Henderson Bowl and won't take no for an answer.

It's this type of never-say-die-attitude that gives Lakes and others confidence Phillips will make a full recovery.

"The one thing about LaQuan is that he has courage and a strong mind," said Lakes, who has been Phillips' guardian since his mother died eight years ago.

Lakes was not at the game when Phillips was injured. She hasn't watched him play since his first game as a freshman, when she started yelling at a player from the other team for tackling him.

Phillips always called Lakes after each game to let her know how he played. So, when Green Valley Assistant Principal Vivian Jackson called one hour into the three-hour game, Lakes feared the worst.

"I dropped to my knees," Lakes said. "I ran out of the house with one shoe on then had to stop to gather myself."

Lakes eventually caught up to the ambulance and followed it to Sunrise. She has barely left her nephew's side since.

Teammates, classmates and administrators have made daily visits with gifts and words of encouragement. That includes his teammate Garrett, who has been friends with Phillips since they met as sixth graders at Thurman White Middle School.

"He is always real friendly to everybody," Garrett said. "I don't think he wants to see anybody down."

The football team will sell towels with Phillips' jersey No. 3 at home games to raise money for hospital bills. Lakes said the district's insurance will cover most of the cost of rehabilitation.

One of the toughest parts of being in the hospital is being away from school, Phillips said. He misses all of his classes, especially choir. He sings bass in the concert choir.

In addition to football games, he'll miss a pair of concerts in the fall. Like his teammates on the gridiron, members of the choir say Phillips is a valuable part of their team. Phillips has been part of the choir since his freshman year.

"He's an excellent singer, just a wonderful kid," said Kim Drusedum, Green Valley's choir director. "I know the way he is. He just won't give up. I don't care if he comes back and just sits in a chair when we sing. The kids just want him back."

Phillips knows the rehab process won't be easy, but he's not going to quit.

"If you put in 100 percent, you get back 100 percent and that's what I'm going to do," he said.

Sports Editor Ray Brewer can be reached at [email protected] or 990-2662.

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