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The Heart of a Champion

"When it first happened I was paralyzed. My body just collapsed. I didn't have control of it. All I know is that I was lying on the ground and not able to move. I was trying to get up but I couldn't." Those were the words of Auburn Safety Zac Etheridge after he sustained a serious neck injury in the 2009 Ole Miss game.

The injury occurred when he had a head on collision with fellow teammate Antonio Coleman after a running play. Zac admitted that, "It scared me a lot. I was in shock, just not being able to move. There was a lot going through my mind. All I could say was 'Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,' just calling out his name."

It also scared his teammates. Back up Mike Slade remarked, "When I saw Zac down I was like ‘Zac get up! Get up! Get up! I was so afraid for him."  Middle Linebacker Josh Bynes said, "I was trying to pull him up and then I realized he was just blinking. He wasn't moving."

An eerie silence fell over Jordan-Hare Stadium that lasted for over 20 minutes as the medical staff worked on Zac. His teammates huddled and knelt on the side line in prayer. Finally he was carted off the field and taken by ambulance to a hospital in Birmingham. There doctors discovered that he had torn ligaments in his neck, cracked the fifth vertebrae in his back, and was bleeding in the tissue around where the spinal column meets the brain..

Many wondered if he would ever walk again much less play football. But just like the Auburn Tiger team that he plays for, no one should ever count Zac Etheridge out. This man has the heart of a champion. One of the first questions he asked the doctors was would he be able to play football again.

Auburn fans are aware of the miraculous comeback that Zac has made since that October day in Jordan-Hare Stadium. This year's Auburn team has an unusual amount of feel good stories, but none are as inspirational or as motivational as Zac's. Could there be a more representative player of this magical championship season?

He personifies all that has made Auburn's Championship Team so special: hard work, dedication, commitment, courage, and the determination to make a comeback from what appears to be insurmountable odds. In short - the heart of a champion.

Coach Chizik said, "The fact that he's playing today is amazing. I'm in amazement when I really step back and think about that day." The Football Writers Association of America is also in amazement, for Zac is one of their finalists for the National Collegiate Courage Award  sponsored by the Orange Bowl and FWAA.

Last year the question for Zac was would he ever walk again? This year he is one of the leading tacklers on Auburn's SEC Championship Team. In addition he was named  Monday as an Honorable Mention All SEC Safety by the Associated Press.

Now 14 months after his serious injury, he will be playing in the BCS National Championship game January 10th. And what got him there, is what got his team there ...

The Heart of a Champion.


Video Update: At 10:15 am EST I saw that TET member Hatrk219 added a link to a video about Zac and Rodney Scott, the Ole Miss player who's actions were credited with saving Zac's life. I highly recommend it to our readers and  I have linked it again here.