For high school athletes, senior year is the one they look forward to most.
It's a last shot at glory before college and the real world for some, and the last year to keep a winning tradition going for others. For Providence Day senior Kevin Sherrill, athletics almost didn't happen at all this year.
Sherrill had been a three-year starter for the Chargers lacrosse team and played a significant role since joining the team as a freshman.
"He was a very good player in middle school," said Chargers head coach Bobby Thompson. "We had a weak spot on our team (his freshman year) and we weren't sure who would fill it, but it was clear after the first day of practice that we were going to be able to count on him to do so. As a freshman he was a major contributor to us winning our first state championship."
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Last summer - playing with Team Carolina, a high-level showcase team - Sherrill was being looked at by college coaches. The team went to the Final Four at the nationally recognized Champ Camp; however, at the end of the summer, Sherrill's future, athletic and otherwise, came under question.
"At the end of July I got sick," said Sherrill. "I was in the hospital for nine days, but I didn't even know I was in the hospital."
While in Hilton Head, Sherrill was bitten by a mosquito. It would take doctors a month to recognize that he had contracted Eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV), which was causing an inflammation in his brain. He rapidly went from being mildly sick to having headaches to exhibiting symptoms like a stroke victim.
"He came back on a Thursday, even did a football drill Saturday, " said his father, Don. "By the following Monday night he had severe headaches. We took him to a doctor, and they thought it may be migraines, or a sinus infection. By Wednesday evening he was getting delirious and his left arm was numb and left leg wasn't moving very well."
By the time Sherrill was admitted to the hospital he was completely incoherent. He didn't recognize his parents, his coaches or friends. To this day, he doesn't remember seven of the nine days he spent in the hospital.
"I remember when I woke up I had a feeding tube and I was 20 pounds lighter than when I'd been at home," he said. "My last memory prior to that was being at home, unable to walk or talk."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) EEEV is a rare illness for humans. Only a few cases are reported in the United States each year; however, it's one of the most severe mosquito-transmitted diseases in the U.S. with an approximately 33 percent morality rate and significant brain damage in most survivors.
Sherrill's doctors told him there had only been 250 reported cases of EEEV in the past 50 years.
"My wife, Susan, was a total optimist and thought things would be fine the whole time," said Don Sherrill. "I was afraid I would either lose my son, or if he made it through it wouldn't be the same child I had before, there would be some damage to his brain."
Two and a half weeks after leaving the hospital, Sherrill was able to start school. It would be another six months before he was released for contact sports. He's played in 13 games and has 50 goals and 23 assists.
"Anybody who knows anything about our team knows that if we don't have (Kevin), we're in a whole lot of trouble," said Thompson.
"The whole season was at stake, but so was Sherrill's senior year."
Doctors said it will be close to a year and a half before Sherrill's brain is fully healed, but they said physically he should have a full recovery.
For his body, Sherrill ate a lot and lifted weights. He dropped from 170 pounds to a 150 while he was sick, but then jumped to 195 pounds during his recovery. His body would be fine to compete again, it was just his brain that was in question; doctors wanted to be sure he would be able to take a hit again and not be injured.
Sherrill missed the entire football season but never gave up hope that he would be cleared for the lacrosse season, and neither did his coach.
"We were anxious to get word," explained Thompson. "Aside from him being a tremendous player, he is the undisputed leader of the team.
"I honestly don't know if this had happened to another kid if they could have been able to make it back onto the field. Knowing Kevin's resolve and strength and character, I never really doubted him. As long as the doctors would give him the go ahead, I knew he would make it back out there."
He was cleared to play just five days before the team started practice in February.
"He's off to a great start," said Thompson. "He's leading our team in scoring goals and total points."
What's most amazing is, through it all, Sherrill has come out a better player than he was before.
"When I got my hand/eye coordination back I felt like it came back stronger and I know my balance is definitely better than it used to be," commented Sherrill. "I think I prepared better this season than past seasons."
Sherrill sheepishly concedes he may have taken some things for granted in the past. However, through his whole ordeal his commitment to the sport and his teammates hasn't wavered.
"I've coached a lot of talented kids over the years, but I haven't coached a kid who is willing to put a team on his shoulders like (Kevin) is," said Thompson.
"He wants to do anything and everything for his teammates, almost to a fault. ... He's just trying to help our team win, and do everything that he can for us to be successful."
The Sherrills' feel lucky Kevin has been able to participate in his senior season.
In a game April 17, Sherrill had eight goals and an assist, leading the Chargers to an 11-4 record (through April 22).
Beyond his senior season, Sherrill is preparing to play lacrosse next year at Bryant College, but he'll take a new perspective with him.
"Don't take anything for granted," the senior said. "You never really know what's going to happen."