YODER – Just a few weeks ago, the Southeast High School football team took the field in Yoder for its first game of the season.
They entered Teeters Field to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” with their blue helmets shining in the sun. Young men hooped and hollered, excited to finally test their skills against an opponent in an official game. The fans, decked out in blue and white, cheered the Cyclones on, as the savory smells of grilled hot dogs and popcorn wafted through the air.
Southeast senior Mercy McAndrew performed a beautiful rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, and after the starters were introduced, it was game time.
The first half of that game didn’t go smooth for the Cyclones. Mitchell, Neb., High School had a size and manpower advantage and jumped out to a big lead, but Southeast managed to score some points in the second half for a respectable 42-20 loss to the Tigers, who are widely considered to be one of the best teams from across the state line.
But on the Southeast sideline, there was one victory.
Bodie Herring, a junior, was one of those players who took the field for Southeast. He had a few catches from his tight end position, and pulled down a few Mitchell ball carriers on the defensive side. One catch-and-run moved the ball deep into Mitchell territory and led to the Cyclones’ fourth quarter touchdown.
On the sidelines – during the few occasions he was there – he cheered on his teammates and despite the lopsided score in the first half, he was never out of the game. He cheered on his teammates, and celebrated his own achievements with humility.
On that night, for the first time in more than a year, he was just a kid playing a game he loves.
“When I went out there, it was eye-opening,” he said. “We kicked off, then we got the ball, and I got to go out there and run the first offensive play. It was a great moment.”
On Sept. 6, 2019, Bodie Herring was what he wanted to be – a football player.
Seeing him take the field, it was hard to believe that just 15 months prior his life was in the hands of a team of neurosurgeons and the good Lord, and there was more at stake than just his football career.
June 19, 2018, was a normal summer day for Bodie. He and his father, Crockett, were working on a shop they’d built on their property. The mission on that day was to fix the garage door opener.
During the project, Bodie climbed down a ladder and hopped on the back of a pickup truck – something he’d surely done hundreds of times in his life. But this time, for whatever reason, was different.
“We were in the new shop that we built last summer,” Bodie said. “We were trying to fix our garage door opener, and I climbed down off a ladder and jumped and sat down on the back of the pick-up truck. I leaned back and fell backwards. I hit my head first, my feet came down and split and hit the ground.
“I remember falling off and all of my toes hurting.”
Crockett, who was working with Bodie, didn’t know Bodie hit his head. He and his son hopped in the car, but at that point, Crockett thought he was just taking Bodie to get his toes looked at.
“When he fell I didn’t know that he hit his head,” Crockett said. “I just thought he fell out of the back of the pickup. He was complaining about his toes, so I thought his toes were broken. Then he started complaining about his head.”
“We jumped in the car, and as we got to the Lingle-Veteran highway he started losing it. By the time we got to the Lingle cut-off, he was very agitated.”
Bodie said that’s the last thing he remembers – being in the car, on the Lingle-Veteran Highway. Crockett said his son was agitated, woozy and couldn’t hold a conversation. Somewhere along that road is when Crocket started recognizing the signs of a head injury. He called his wife and Bodie’s mom, Marnie – a physical therapist at North Platte Physical Therapy – and reported Bodie’s symptoms.
Marnie was on her way to a funeral in Lingle. She probed Crockett for information on the symptoms – ones she had seen hundreds of times, working on the sidelines at Goshen County School District No. 1 sporting events. Initially, she thought the symptoms were in line with a concussion.
“I was still thinking concussion at that point,” Marnie said. “I thought he’d rung his bell pretty good.
“I was asking what hurts, trying to figure out what was wrong so it wouldn’t take as long. When I got there and opened the door, he couldn’t tell me anything about what happened or where he was. That was fairly unusual.
“Crockett told me that Bodie had said he felt a pop in his ears. As soon as I heard that, I knew we had to go. We got all three of us in the car and we went. When we were in the car, he got agitated enough that he knocked the car into neutral because he didn’t know where he was.”
Marnie and Crockett took their son to the emergency room at Banner Community Hospital. According to Marnie, by the time they got there Bodie had lost the motor function necessary to climb into a wheelchair.
Upon his initial exam, the Banner team believed Bodie had suffered a concussion and resolved to observe him for any changes in his condition. But that all changed in an instant.
“He projectile puked,” Marnie said.
“Then we went straight to get a CT scan. They got him on the table to get to the CT, but then the doctor actually had to hold him onto the table because he is such a big kid and he was so agitated. The doctor saw the bleed immediately as it came across.”
“Bring him back with all of his faculties or take him”
What had begun as a normal day for the Herrings had suddenly become a nightmare. An accidental fall during a routine chore had caused Bodie’s brain to bleed inside his skull. In an instant, Marnie and Crockett’s son had gone from a typical rough-and-tumble high school boy working on the family’s farm into a fight for his life.
After the brain bleed was detected, Bodie was transported by ambulance to Regional West Medical Center in Scottsbluff – in record time, according to the ambulance driver – and taken straight into the operating room. A neurosurgeon performed a craniotomy to remove part of Bodie’s skull and reveal the bleed.
What the surgeon found shook Marnie and Crockett to their souls.
“They actually had to do a craniotomy and remove a chunk of the bone so they could have the visual of the area,” Marnie said. “The surgeon came in and told us ahead of time, because they had seen the CT scanning and based on where the bleed is, which is a very vascular area, ‘something in there is torn. There’s a good chance that I can’t stop the bleeding. He will either bleed out and die, or have a massive stroke on the table.’”
That’s when Crockett lost it.
“Accidents happen and I knew there was something wrong, but when the doctor said we could have lost him on the table that is when I really, truly lost it,” he said. “I didn’t know what to say to him, because he kind of stood there and waited for a response, and my response was, ‘Well, what are you waiting for? It’s not going to get any better the way it is.’
“You can’t protect your child anymore. You can’t stop something bad from happening. You have to depend on other people. You feel very helpless.”
Marnie prayed – and found peace in the chaos of the situation.
“I remember our pastor was there with us, and we were praying. The last thing I said, and I wasn’t going to say it out loud because I felt kind of guilty, but I finally said it – ‘Lord, bring him back with all of his faculties or take him.’ Once I said that I had this peace. I was pretty okay after that.”
The surgeon made the decision to just pack the area in an attempt and stop the bleeding, and sent Bodie – still under anesthesia – to Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Colo. – one of the best hospitals in the country, according to multiple metrics. Bodie was transported to Swedish on an airplane, and when he arrived, a team of neurosurgeons was there to meet him. The team at Swedish started to wake Bodie to get a picture of his condition, and that’s when Marnie and Crockett got their first piece of good news in hours.
“They met us at Swedish with this huge team,” Marnie, who flew to Colorado with Bodie, said. “As they started to wake him up, the intensity in the room kind of went down. It was super critical, but when they saw the neural responses on the test that they did, they saw that it was okay.”
The bleed had stopped.
But that didn’t mean everything would quickly get back to normal.
Bodie would have to undergo an extensive recovery process and complete a lot of physical therapy to get back to where he was before he fell from the truck.
Bodie, Crockett and his medical team made a pact – if Bodie could eat a cheeseburger, he could go home. The fall happened on a Tuesday. On Friday, he helped his sister Brenna, now a freshman at Southeast, go over the upcoming NBA Draft.
“Brenna told me afterwards she knew I was going to be okay if I can help her go over the NBA draft,” Bodie said.
Watching Bodie pour through the lists of basketball players with his sister was one of the first signs that Bodie was on his way back, Marnie said.
Getting back to normal
She would read off the name,” Marnie said. “He’d say the name and say where they were from. He was already pretty on top of it.”
On Sunday, Bodie had his cheeseburger. The medical team held up its end of the bargain. Bodie was allowed to come home.
“I was just happy to be home,” Bodie said. “I didn’t want to be where I couldn’t smell grass or see it.”
The recovery process continued at home. For the first 10 days, Bodie wasn’t allowed to do very much. There were strict limits on screen time, and most of his time was spent in the dark to avoid overstimulating his still-recovering brain.
According to Crockett, that was a tough proposition for a high school boy who plays multiple sports and competes on the high school rodeo circuit.
“The first 10 days, he didn’t really do anything,” Crockett said. “He slept a lot. After the 10 days, on day 11, he was driving me nuts because I had to keep telling him that he can’t do that. He was good for the first two weeks, then we had to keep holding him back. He couldn’t lift anything, he was only supposed to have like 30 minutes a day of TV.”
But Bodie was pretty good at monitoring himself, Marnie said. He even figured out pretty early on that he could utilize Brenna to fetch things. Bodie’s recovery went smoothly, and he was able to start his sophomore year at Southeast on time – which is the point when Bodie considered things back to normal.
But there was one big exception – he would have to miss the 2018 football season.
“We went in for a three-month check up with the surgeon, and he said absolutely no contact sports for at least a year,” Bodie said. “Basketball is not supposed to be a contact sport, so he let that slide. The next option I had was to either go home or to play golf for Torrington.”
Crockett is an assistant coach for the Cyclones football team. He played for Southeast too, and missing the season was tough for the entire family.
“I was glad he was okay, but he had this dejected look when the doctor said no contact sports,” Crockett said. “He told him ‘no contact sports and no riding horses, either.’ The look on his face was hard on me just because I know how much he enjoys those two sports.”
Eventually, the football season started and the Cyclones played their home opener. For the first time in years, Bodie wasn’t there.
“I worked that game,” Marnie said. “When I got out there to the field, I lost it. Someone came up and asked if everything’s okay, I said ‘yeah I just didn’t realize how hard this is going to be to not have him here.’
“All the way along we just had to tell ourselves that we are so blessed, so thankful.”
Bodie wasn’t even in the stadium. He was golfing hours away from Yoder, and for the first time ever, he listened on the radio as his teammates took the field without him.
“This week last year, we were playing Pine Bluffs at home,” he said. “I was in Riverton at a golf tournament. I listened from the first quarter until about ten thirty at night when the game was over. I was just listening to them play – and it was hard.”
Bodie had a solid year for the Trailblazers. He had trimmed his score to 88 by the end of the season, and qualified for the state golf tournament – but it wasn’t football, and it wasn’t Southeast.
The Herrings made it through the rest of the football season, and Bodie was able to re-join his classmates during basketball season. Crockett is the Cyclones basketball coach, and Bodie helped the team qualify for the WHSAA 2A State Basketball Tournament.
Just a few months later, June 19 rolled around again.
One year after he fell from the pickup, Bodie’s doctors gave him the go-ahead – he would be playing football for Southeast in 2019.
“I was cleared to go back to all sports,” Bodie said. “I was back to normal. That when I knew it was going to be okay.”
Back in the action
When Bodie got the news he could play football again, he was ready to take field full speed ahead with all the exuberance of a high school boy who hadn’t been able to play his favorite sport in over a year.
His parents were a little more hesitant.
“I was against it, until that rehab doctor said ‘he’s going to be healed, so you can’t put him in bubble wrap,’” Crockett said. “He wanted to play football, and we left it up to him.”
“I know a lot of people are like ‘your kid had a head injury, and he’s fine, so why chance it?’ Why? Some doctors have told you not to do it,’” Marnie said. “I think it boils down to you can’t put a kid into a bubble. There’s a bigger plan out there and no matter what we’re doing, that plan is going to carry itself out. Obviously, they want him here and he’s healthy for a reason.”
As Bodie recovered from the brain bleed and began resuming his normal life, Marnie and Crockett developed a mantra – “He’s a real boy,” they’d say, referencing Disney’s Pinocchio. It helped them let go, and allow Bodie to get back to doing what he loves.
Summer passed, and soon school – and football season – started. Bodie made it through practice, and Sept. 6 rolled around. For the first time in almost two years, it was game day for Bodie Herring.
“Before the game, I was kind of a mess,” Marnie said. “I asked him if he was nervous, and he said he needed to take the first hit, and he knew he would be ok. That was me, too. I knew once I could see him take his first hit, and he was OK, he’d be fine. I remember the first pass he caught, he got hit and he was fine. I wasn’t worried anymore.”
That first hit came after his first reception. Cyclone quarterback Hayden Anderson found Herring and delivered a strike. Bodie hauled it in, and a crowd of Mitchell defenders closed in and dragged Bodie to the ground.
Crockett watched from his post in the coaching booth. Marnie held her breath from the sideline.
White Tigers jerseys climbed off the pile – then No. 88 in blue jumped up from the ground.
Bodie was OK.
“The first catch I had against Mitchell, I went down because I just didn’t know,” Bodie said. “I got the first one out of the way. After that, I’ve tried not to play any different.”
Since then, Bodie has been one of the leading receivers for the Cyclones. In week two, he caught five passes against Cheyenne East High School for 67 yards and recorded a tackle to help Southeast roll to a 58-0 win – their first since 2017. Last Friday, the Cyclones won their first conference game since Bodie’s freshman year when they took down Pine Bluffs High School 17-9. Bodie caught three passes for 26 yards.
As Southeast (2-1) heads into its homecoming game against Niobrara County High School this Friday at 7 p.m., the team has some momentum behind it for the first time in years. They have a winning record, a defense that looks like it’s going to be stout and a versatile offense that is putting points on the board.
Bodie Herring has been a big part of that. A year removed from the fall, the scars from the craniotomy have grown faint, and Bodie’s fighting spirit is stronger than ever. He’s where he belongs now, taking the field with the teammates he’s lined up with since fourth grade.
After the crisis and the recovery, he’s more than ‘a real boy’ – he’s a football player.