RA sophomore returns to court after breaking neck playing football

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, March 2, 2016

RESERVE — By all accounts, Garland Robertson is a pretty lucky guy.

The Riverside Academy sophomore was born on Leap Day, Feb. 29, in 2000, making him either four years old or 16 years old — depending on your perspective.

He also is a living, breathing and walking survivor of a broken neck suffered during the Rebels football team’s victory over Country Day on Halloween Night in 2015. More than that, he’s back playing basketball, one of the games he loves.

Not so long ago; however, Robertson thought his playing days were over. In the first half of the football game against Country Day, Robertson was playing safety and went after one of the Cajuns’ receivers.

“I hit his leg,” Robertson recalled. “And, have you ever hit your funny bone? That’s what it felt like through my whole body.”

Robertson signaled to the bench after that play and took himself out of the game.

“It didn’t really hurt, it was just stiff,” he said. “I couldn’t move it much. I kept trying to play. I wanted to go back in.”

By the time the team went into the locker room at halftime, it had gotten worse.

“I couldn’t take my shoulder pads off,” he said. “After that, I knew I couldn’t play any more.”

After a consultation with trainer Ryan Trahan, Robertson’s night was done and he was on his way to Ochsner Health Center-River Parishes for x-rays. At first, Robertson said, doctors didn’t think it was a serious injury.

“At first they were, like, ‘you just jammed your neck. You’ll be out for a couple of weeks,’” he said. “But from me feeling it in the bed and all, to be on the safe side, they said I should go to Ochsner in Jefferson to get checked out. They were telling me to go home, but my mom was, like, ‘No. We’re going to get it checked out.’”

He did, and early the next morning doctors informed him he had, indeed, broken his neck — the C5 vertebrae, to be exact.

“I didn’t understand,” he said. “I wasn’t paralyzed, I wasn’t dead.  Just a couple of weeks ago, a kid in Franklin (Parish) had broken his neck and died. I couldn’t understand it.”

Robertson was lucky.

“If I had gone back in the game and got hit, I might have gotten paralyzed,” Robertson said. “I’m thankful to Mr. Ryan that I didn’t go back in because I was anxious to play.”

Trahan said he was just doing his job.

“He did want to go back in,” said Trahan, who serves as the trainer for Riverside athletics. “Part of what I do and our training is to take each injury step by step and try to come up with a, what’s going on and b, where do we go from here? Some of the signs and symptoms he was showing, sometimes you just get that feeling that something’s just not right.”

Robertson underwent surgery that Monday, during which a plate and two screws were inserted into his neck through an incision in his throat. He wore a neck brace for the next three months, forcing him to miss the rest of Riverside’s football season and its run to the Class 2A state finals, then the beginning of the basketball season. He had been a projected starter.

“It was hard watching my team, knowing I could help,” he said. “Football and basketball are my life and I didn’t know if I would ever play them again.”

Robertson is a lucky guy. With clearance from his doctors, he returned to the basketball court in January. He notified everyone he was back on Jan. 30 when he scored 23 points with seven 3-pointers in a 76-54 win over Gulfport. He scored 17 points against Country Day, another 17 against Karr and 16 against University.

“He’s very fortunate,” Riverside coach Timmy Byrd said. “Just a few months ago he was told he wouldn’t play sports ever again and here he is. He’s such a competitor, he’s going to give it his all. Sometimes he goes in there and fights for a ball and you kind of hold your breath when he does that.”

Robertson said it’s still to be determined if he’ll play football again. His surgeon and his mama say “No way.” A second doctor is taking a wait-and-see approach. For now, he’s putting everything he has into every game, trying to help the Rebels win a fourth basketball state championship in a row.

“Football and basketball are all I know,” he said. “Every game is important to me now. I take every game to heart because I know it can end that quick.”