By Brian Howard
Julius Davis woke up Sept. 12 just like he always did - at 6 a.m.
The Mt. Zion High School football player was ready to begin another week of classes. However, what Davis didn't know, was that his normal day was about to take a turn for the worse.
The senior football player and wrestler had his career cut tragically short after damaging his spine during a practice.
"When the doctor came in and told me, I couldn't look at his face," Davis said. "I looked up at the ceiling and teared up. It's lonely at the top, and at that point, I was at the bottom and I still felt lonely. In that bed, the room got so small, I could hardly breathe. I was just so low."
Davis began that Monday going to classes and couldn't stop thinking about getting onto the football field for practice.
"I couldn't stop thinking about the team or what the coaches wanted me to do to help the team beat this weeks opponent (North Clayton)," Davis said Thursday afternoon.
After a day of classes, Davis suited up in the Bulldogs' locker room and headed out to the practice field.
Davis, who is a running back and a linebacker, participated in an offensive drill - Oklahoma - but that is when the trouble began.
"I kind of hurt my back, twisting it a bit, but I didn't think nothing of it," Davis said.
The pain never went away as Davis prepared to take on the first-team defense.
"The first play I ran, I got stuffed," Davis said. "I got mad. The next play, I said I was going to make a touchdown. On the next play, when he (the quarterback) said, 'hut,' everything was normal, except when I got five yards up the field, somebody grabbed my leg and I tried to kick them off.
"After I kicked them off, I turned around and started running again. My body wasn't limp, but I just wasn't ready to take a hit. I turned around and got hit."
After the hit, Davis said everything was still normal, but that didn't last long as he began to notice that he only had feeling on his left side, but not his right.
"I threw the ball with my left hand and tried to sit up, but I fell right back down," Davis said. "I waited a minute. I tried to sit up again, using my right hand, but I just turned to the side because I couldn't fell my right side."
At that point, Davis, who had never experienced this kind of feeling before, waived to the coaches to signal that something was wrong.
Davis didn't know what was happening and said the he didn't know if he was about to die.
"I started touching my body to see if I broke a bone or if any bones were sticking out of the skin," Davis said. "Coach (Bob Ryan) leaned down and asked me if I was all right. I told him, 'no. I can't feel the right side of my body.' He started touching me, but I couldn't feel it. He started scratching me and pinching me and I still couldn't feel it.
Teammates became very concerned about the safety of Davis, who is a captain for the Bulldogs, and continued to crowd around him.
At that point, Ryan decided to call an ambulance.
The ambulance arrived and did their procedure, but Davis had to be airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.
Although concise, Davis said he wasn't too concern about being hurt, but how long he was going to be at the hospital.
"I wanted to go back to practice and get back to my normal life," Davis said. "After I got into the room and thought about what had happened, I was concerned about how long I was going to be out."
LaVera Cox, who is Davis' aunt and a parental figure, didn't know how to react after hearing Davis was being airlifted to the hospital.
"At that moment, I became very frighten, very nervous and shaken," Cox said.
"We rushed to the hospital. We got called to talk to the social worker, which made me kind of nervous. When we went back there, I didn't know he had gotten his feeling back. I thought he was still paralyzed."
Meanwhile, Davis, who was waiting on his results, was wondering whether it was going to be a minor injury or one that will stop him from playing football and wrestling.
Three doctors looked at Davis, with the final one - a neurologist - making the final conclusion.
The first doctor came in to take x-rays, followed by one to do a CT scan.
After the two doctors came in with the diagnosis being good, Davis was ready to suit up for the Thursday night against North Clayton.
"When the doctor said the x-rays are negative, the first words out of Julius' mouth was, 'coach can I play Thursday?'" Ryan said.
Things appeared to be going in the right direction, but 20 minutes after being cleared to play, Davis got the crushing news and nearly broke into tears.
"At night, the neurologist came in and one of the doctors had told us that he would making the final decision," Cox said. "He (neurologist) came in and said that there had been some signs of injuries."
The neurologist said that it was a blessing for Davis to get his feelings back, because they don't usually come back fast. But he also said that Davis would not be able to play contact sports again.
This eliminated Davis from playing football and to wrestle.
"At that moment, Davis and I just broke down," Cox, fighting back tears, said. "Even though I knew it was going to be a blessing that everything was going to be all right, I knew he really, really loved sports, especially wrestling."
Davis qualified to go to state as a wrestler in the 145-weightclass as a freshman, and at 152 as a sophomore and junior. His junior year, Davis went to the Elite Eight.
Among his wrestling success, Davis was getting recruited by the University of Wisconsin, Appalachian State, Iowa State and Iowa.
While Davis was in the hospital, the team made a trip to see him. However, the player that made the hit on Davis wouldn't look at him, Cox said.
Davis remained positive during his stay in the hospital. When the team made the trip to see him, Davis joked, making everyone smile and laugh.
Ryan, who has been teaching and coaching for 29 years, said he had never seen anything like this.
"I have never had a neck injury," Ryan said. "It was the first time we had to call an ambulance and then they got here and called the helicopter. That scared me, except for the fact, that when he was laying there, he had full strength on his left side and feeling and nothing on his right."
Davis, wearing his gameday jersey, was released from the hospital at 3 p.m. on Sept. 15, wearing a neckbrace. Instead of going home, Cox drove Davis to Mt. Zion High School. The appearance of Davis shocked his teammates.
"I came through the locker room and it was like everybody had seen a ghost," Davis said. "Players were slumped over putting their pads on and then everybody looked up and saw me. The focus turned to me, but I wanted it to be on North Clayton."
The injury may have taken away his ability to play, but it didn't take away his spirit.
Before the start of the Thursday night game against North Clayton at Tara Stadium, Davis was introduced with the captains. His introduction received a loud ovation.
"Just to see me come straight out of the hospital to the football game, dressed up like everything was normal, lifted them (crowd) up too," Davis said.
Davis is expected to wear his neck brace for the next three months, plus through rehab.
"I always have it on," Davis said. "I sleep with it on, bathed with it on. I have a different one to bathed with it too. I thought I was going to get a break.
"It's going to be a long process. I just try to focus on one day at a time. God worked miracles. Maybe I'll get it off sooner."
Besides a damaged spine, a MRI showed previous injuries in the spine. The hit that knocked Davis in the hospital was temporary paralysis, but if Davis were to play a contact sport and damage his spine, he could end up with permanent paralysis.
"He has handled this much better as an 18-year-old kid, than I am handling it as a 50-year-old adult, Ryan said. "It bothered me, more than it is him. The next day, I came to practice and I addressed the team (wearing sunglasses). But when I told them he would never play again, I was glad I had my sunglasses on, cause I started to tear up."
Besides several potential wrestling scholarships, Davis has been getting looks for an academic scholarship from Boston College.