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High School Notebook: Franklin football player overcomes broken neck to play again

Clayton Ford (48) is back in uniform for the Franklin football team after breaking his neck last year. (WILL PARSON, Monitor staff)

Clayton Ford (48) is back in uniform for the Franklin football team after breaking his neck last year. (WILL PARSON, Monitor staff)

Coming back from injuries is part of the deal for football players. But returning to the gridiron after breaking your neck is something special, and that’s just what senior linebacker Clayton Ford has done for Franklin.

Ford suffered three fractured vertebrae and a ruptured disc last year during the Golden Tornadoes’ preseason camp at Camp Winaukee in Moultonborough, but it wasn’t a football-related injury. It happened when he slipped off a dock into shallow water.

“I didn’t feel anything at first, I was hit by shock, but then I realized I couldn’t move my neck,” Ford said. “So I told the coach to call an ambulance.”

“It was scary,” Franklin Coach Jeff Kaplan said. “When someone breaks their neck, you kind of think the worst.”

Ford first went to Laconia Regional General Hospital for x-rays and then he was sent to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for surgery. Along the way, he was certainly worried about the worst.

“I was actually really scared that it could have been something really serious, something I could have been paralyzed from,” Ford said.

The surgery was a success and by the time Ford left the hospital, he was no longer in pain. He also had no doubts that he wanted to get back on the football field.

“I told the doctors that I wanted to play again,” Ford said. “They told me it could possibly happen with me having to take as many precautions as possible, or that I might never play again.”

Even though his football future was in doubt, Ford remained part of the 2012 team. He was on the sidelines for every practice and every game wearing a neck brace and watching as the Tornadoes put together a championship season in Division VI.

The neck brace came off after four months and Ford was cleared to play baseball just two days before tryouts. And it wasn’t until the second day of football preseason this summer that he got the okay to put on his football pads and start delivering hits.

“I was actually scared what the first hit would feel like, I could have done a lot of different things to my neck,” Ford said. “It took the first two or three weeks to get used to it.”

While Ford’s return is remarkable, the season has been forgettable for Franklin. The Tornadoes are 0-5 and Ford had to sit out last week’s game with a shoulder injury, but he’s still grateful for the chance to play one more season of football.

“I’m really glad I came back,” Ford said. “I was there for the team last year, and I’m still here for them now.”

“He’s been a leader for us, in and out of the locker room,” Kaplan said. “He gives it 100 percent out there and gets the most out of his ability.”

Digging the Bears

When the Coe-Brown volleyball team came back from a 2-0 deficit to claim a 3-2 win over St. Thomas on Sept. 23, it gave the Bears a super boost of confidence.

“That was a turning point,” Coe-Brown Coach Rick Veno said. “At that point, they knew they could beat anybody.”

And that’s exactly what the Bears have done, reeling off seven straight wins since that night to claim the top spot in D-II with an 11-1 record. That streak has included a 3-0 road win against Somersworth, the only team to beat Coe-Brown this season, and a 3-0 decision against Windham (10-2) on Friday in a showdown for first place.

“That was the toughest game we’ve played all year,” Veno said. “Windham is very, very good.”

With a team full of seniors and juniors who have now been playing together for years, Veno said, “I knew we were going to be strong, but I didn’t know we were going to be this good.”

It starts with defense for the Bears, and that defense starts with junior libero Debbie Peabody, who has 221 digs this season and 893 in her career. Abby Ahern (143 digs) is also a key to the defense, but it’s really a team approach with Meg Rouillard (80 digs), Amanda Riley (76 digs), Sadie Steffen (71 digs) and Emma Easler (team-high 35 blocks) all doing their part.

Easler (140 kills), Rouillard (141 kills), Ahern (84 kills) and Katie Tomaszewski (43 kills) lead the attack for Coe-Brown, which has a pair of skilled setters in starter Steffen (216 assists) and backup Lacey Locke (106 assists).

“We’ve just got a bunch of girls that are coming into their own right now and jelling,” Veno said. “It’s their time.”

Games of the week

Concord’s Memorial Field is the place to be on Thursday and Friday as the Crimson Tide host a pair of undefeated teams.

First, the Concord boys’ soccer team (9-2-1) will take on Hanover (12-0) on Thursday. Both teams have games tomorrow – the Tide travels to Bishop Guertin (1-11) while the Marauders go to Keene (5-7) – but there’s no doubt the big match will be on Thursday. Hanover has won every game by at least two goals and 10 of its 12 wins have come by shutout. Concord has lost to the other teams ahead of it in the D-I standings (Alvirne and Manchester Central), so this is the Tide’s chance to make a major statement before the tournament.

The next night will see two of the three unbeaten D-I football teams square off as Bedford (6-0) takes on Concord (6-0). The Tide is coming off a dramatic 21-14 overtime win against Pinkerton while the Bulldogs whipped up on Manchester Memorial last week, 45-14. Bedford’s defense is giving up just 4.3 points per game while Concord is scoring 45.8 points per contest. Chances are good these two will meet again on Nov. 9 in the D-I North Conference championship (a.k.a. the quarterfinals) with home field advantage going to Friday night’s winner.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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