Top Matchup: One Heritage player has football "ripped away," but he's coping

Heritage High's Zach Scott keeps a smile on his face, despite an injury forcing him to quit playing the game he loves. PHOTO: WTVC SPORTS

Southeast Whitfield High school at Heritage is our Top Matchup.

It features two high scoring teams in north Georgia.

But something bigger and more meaningful has happened at Heritage.

Coach E.K. Slaughter was kind enough to invite us inside a team meeting Tuesday for some tough news.

Zach Scott stands 6'3" and weighs almost 300 pounds.

The junior offensive lineman is used to pushing defensive linemen around.

But no more.

Coach Slaughter broke the news to his team in that Tuesday meeting, "But for all practical purposes, Zach Scott's football career is done," Slaughter told his roomful of teenagers.

Scott was suffering from what he thought were "stingers," which are common in football.

His family took the extra step, went to the doctor and he had an MRI.

The doctor told him he had neuropraxia, or minor nerve damage to his spinal cord. Scott knew it was serious. "He (the doctor) said there's a high risk of me being paralyzed from any hit. He says he doesn't feel comfortable with me playing again. "

It was very hard for the junior with increasing potential to take.

UTC had offered him to be a Moc.

Virginia Tech, South Carolina and Navy all showed interest. The affable Scott knew the doctor's diagnosis would be tough to swallow. "Football was such a pivotal part of my life. It just, they just ripped it away from me. I went from playing on Friday to just having said you can never play football again."

Coach Slaughter knew his team needed to hear from him. In that quiet meeting room with all heads focused on him, Slaughter said, "Your purpose is not a sport. Your purpose isn't a game. That's something that he's having to work through right now, that his family's having to work through right now. It's tough. It's hard. We're hurt and we're going to continue to hurt with him."

But Scott is not saying goodbye to his passion. "I still run with them, I still lift with them. I'm a player. But when it comes time to strap up, I just can't."

Slaughter said Scott is an intelligent young man and he's already "turned the page."

He's working with the offensive line coaching staff and sharing his knowledge with his teammates.

The coach said this injury is a teaching moment for his entire team. "Football is something that they do and it's not who they are and sometimes we get lost in that."

Within that meeting, the coach played a clip from the inspirational Tim Tebow. He was on "First Take" on ESPN, telling the hosts why he pursued baseball after his football career.

Tebow asked, "When are chances based on chances? Dreams are based on something that's in your heart."

Slaughter used that comment to reinforce his message.

A closing message to his players. "Know who you are. Know who you are. You're not a number on the back of a jersey. You're not a position on the field. You're not an "X" or an "O." You're a person. You're bigger than the game.

Zach Scott is certainly bigger than the game.

In addition to helping his O-line coaches, he also throws shot and discus.

He plans to channel his energy into that, possibly on into college.

That said, he has to have a tough conversation with UTC Coach Tom Arth, to inform him he can't play.

But when facing the risk of paralysis, Zach had to give up what he loves.

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