Series of concussions transform Basehor-Linwood senior from dominant defender into reluctant spectator
For Brian Marshall, the news was like a punch in the gut, or a pancake block from a 300-pound pulling guard.
The doctor had just told the Basehor-Linwood High School senior that if he suffered another concussion playing football, he might not leave the field alive.
It was startling to hear his mortality put in such stark terms, but not completely unexpected. The doctor's words confirmed what Marshall's instincts had been telling him for some time.
"After I got my first concussion, I thought I was probably going to get another one," Marshall said. "Every time I stepped on the football field after that I was never the same, I never went full 100 percent out there. I was always scared I was going to get another concussion."
Marshall suffered his first concussion as a freshman and since then he has suffered numerous head traumas. By his own estimate he has had nine concussions, most of them mild, but at least four serious. That was far too many for anyone to continue in a violent sport like football.
"Once you get a third concussion, anymore it's a done deal," BLHS coach Steve Hopkins said. "It's a sign that there could be a really serious situation in the future."
So Marshall was forced to hang up his cleats for the last time this year after he suffered a concussion against Mill Valley in the Bobcats' third game.
After leading the team in sacks and finishing second in tackles his junior year, Marshall's days as a defensive end were over. He spent the rest of the season on the sideline, watching his brother, Kevin, and the rest of his teammates finish 3-6.
"It feels really bad because I've always thought I was a big part of the team on defense and I just wish I could get out there and play with them," Marshall said. "I miss it so much, because I watch my brother out there and that would've been so much fun to be able to play with my brother on the other side of the line."
Brian and Kevin used to compete to see who could come up with more tackles and sacks in each game. Now Brian tries to do everything he can from the sideline to help his brother, who is, in a sense, playing for both of them.
It has helped, as Kevin was one of Basehor's defensive leaders as a junior. Still, Hopkins knows it must be hard on Brian.
"Kevin's doing the things that I think Brian wishes he was doing and that can never be easy," Hopkins said. "This year I think he was really in line to be an all-league defensive end, he just played so hard and worked so hard at it. That day I know was an extremely tough day when he found out he couldn't play anymore. He's still with us, he's been there every day at practice and continues to be part of what we do, but obviously it's been a real tough year for him."
Perhaps the toughest thing for Marshall to accept is that there's no answer to the question, "why me?" There's little that separates him from the hundreds of other high school football players in the area. He had the same equipment and there's nothing different about his head, yet he seemed unusually prone to concussions.
"I got an MRI and it said everything was fine; the neurologist said that I just had bad luck," Marshall said. "I've just been getting hit in the wrong places at the wrong time."
For whatever reason, Marshall's life is slightly different from those of his buddies now. Not only will he have to avoid football, he'll also have to forego recreational boxing and wrestling, reducing himself to a spectator when his friends get together for those pursuits. In general, he'll just have to be more careful about protecting his head than the average person.
But for all the things he's lost, the most difficult was probably his senior football season.
His zest for the game was obvious when he talked about the future of the Bobcats under Coach Hopkins.
"I think it's going great," Marshall said. "Freshmen now, when they're seniors they're going to be awesome because just learning the plays takes awhile. We didn't even get through the whole playbook."
If the Bobcats do turn things around, it may ease the pain of losing football for Marshall. Then he would at least know that in his last years at BLHS he was there to help lay the foundation for future success.