Lyons: Head injury hits home for coach & dad Walters

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, September 14, 2016

It’s every football player’s parent’s worst nightmare.

It’s game night. The action is fierce. There’s a hit.

And your son doesn’t get up.

Brandon and Rosalind Walters lived that nightmare on Sept. 2.

It was the end of the Big Game between West St. John High and St. James High, the big rivalry game pitting the Rams against their former coach, who just landed down the road.

Near the end of the game, St. James’ kicker took a bad snap, ran around then hurled the ball towards the end zone in an unscripted Hail Mary.

Everybody went up. Everybody came down. And West St. John senior wide receiver Jamal Walters took a hard hit to the head. Then he didn’t get up.

“He was down for a while,” Brandon Walters said. “Everybody was upset.”

When he did come back to the sideline under his own power, Jamal said he was fine. But he had a headache.

This being the year 2016, when the word “concussion” has become as scary as “torn ACL,” Jamal was strapped to a gurney and rushed off to the hospital.

Rosalind, the worried mom, jumped into the ambulance with her son.

But Brandon was left behind to worry on his own. Why?

Because he’s the head coach of the Rams football team. Jamal is his son, but he’s also his starting wide receiver.

“It was hard,” Brandon said. “I couldn’t go. I had to stay. We still have to go on the field and finish the game. I guess I just tried not to think about it too much.”

That’s probably what a lot of people do these days — try not to think about it too much.

But that’s hard when we see names like former NFL players Ken Stabler, Frank Gifford, Bubba Smith and Junior Seau added to an ever-growing list of athletes diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after their deaths.

Most lived their last years with unbearable pain and memory loss.

I’ve seen a statistic that says one in five high school athletes will experience a concussion during their playing season. Such stories have some parents re-thinking their sons’ athletic futures. Some don’t want them to play at all.

As a coach, Brandon Walters knows those dangers. It’s his job to teach his players how to prevent such an injury.

“We teach them to keep their head out of the game, to tackle high, to not lead with the helmet, to be careful when they tackle,” Brandon said.

That’s hard to do for a guy who was a defensive tackle at McDonogh 35 and Grambling State, who played hard, fierce and mean.

“When I was playing, all that was legal,” he said. “I definitely tried to inflict pain on some people. The game definitely is changing.”

It’s hard to do for a guy who’s also a dad. Jamal was indeed diagnosed with a concussion. He had to sit out Friday night’s game against Donaldsonville. His status this week is questionable.

“Of course he’s all up around my neck wanting to play,” Brandon said. “I told him we don’t want him to come back to fast.”

It’s also Brandon’s job to assure worried parents, especially the moms, that he’s doing everything he can to help prevent them.

He has had to tell that to his own wife as they watched their three sons, Jyron, Jabari and now Jamal, work their way through high school without serious injury (knock wood).

This one was hard, though.

“She’s definitely rethinking his future,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of talking. I tell her it’s all part of the game. Injuries are part of the game. You just have to hope for the best.”

Lori Lyons is the Sports Editor at L’OBSERVATEUR. She can be reached at or 985-652-9545.