High School Sports

In Mooresville, college dreams help prep football star overcome disease, surgery and setback

When he was 7, Storm Monroe told his parents he was going to be a college football player one day. Back then, he couldn’t have anticipated the health scares in his future.

Today, Monroe is a 5-foot-10, 217-pound sophomore linebacker for Mooresville High who twice has overcome battles with a rare immune system disorder. Years later, he had surgery to repair a severe injury and developed complications that could have killed him.

He recovered from that, too.

“Storm’s a special kid, man,” said Mooresville defensive coordinator Jonathan Oliphant. “He’s the type of kid you want to coach and the reason you do it. To see him come back (from everything he’s been through) is remarkable.

“Week-in and week-out, teams have to account for him because they know he’s going to make plays. To be able to do that after what he went through is just crazy. You don’t see kids come back like that and really not miss a beat. You don’t see that at all.”

This season, Monroe has 132 tackles in eight games and leads all high school football players in North Carolina, according to MaxPreps, a website that tracks high school stats throughout the country. Monroe ranks 12th nationally in tackles and has five sacks. He’s also attracting interest from colleges, including the Charlotte 49ers, his coaches said.

His dream seems to be coming into focus.

But seven years ago, it appeared Monroe might not be playing football at all.

Struggling to walk

When he was 9, his legs hurt and he struggled to walk. In March 2010, his parents put him in a hospital for 14 days. Doctors diagnosed him with Guillain-Barré syndrome, which affects about one in 100,000 people, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Patients like Monroe, who have GBS, often experience weakness or tingling sensations in the legs as their body’s immune system attacks the body.

Monroe’s treatment included receiving antibodies via an IV to slow the disease, but he developed an allergy to the treatment that was so painful that his mother, April, remembers her son “raging and ripping out the IVs.”

The symptoms subsided and Monroe began physical therapy to learn to walk again. Three months later, however, the symptoms returned, though less severe. This required another round of treatment, more of the IV bag he was allergic to, and more therapy.

“As a mom,” April Monroe said, “the worst thing that can happen to your child is to see them get hurt and maybe see their dreams come falling down and there’s nothing they’ve done to do it. I just wondered if he would be the same Storm.”

Monroe got back on his feet after the second battle with GBS, and hasn’t shown symptoms since, except now he has trouble overcoming colds.

He was back to chasing his dream of playing college football, playing youth ball and middle school and finally landing a spot on Mooresville High’s varsity team in the fall of 2016.

Knee injury another setback

Monroe was having a phenomenal freshman season, averaging nearly 13 tackles per game. But in his fifth game, a 42-0 win against Statesville, his season came to a sudden end.

“I tried to make a last-minute decision” to make a tackle, Monroe said. “I tried to change direction and my foot got stuck. I got hit in the shoulder at the same time. I fell straight back and I felt a pop. I could hear it. I tried to get up and I couldn’t put any weight on my leg.”

Monroe had severely injured his knee, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus. He had the required surgery two weeks later and was hoping to begin rehab, but one night his calf hurt and his lower leg was red and hot to the touch.

His father, Ken Monroe, told his wife and son that it might be infected. After the family called the doctor and described the symptoms, they were told to rush Storm to the hospital. Turns out, he had blood clots in his injured right leg and several in both lungs.

“When we got there,” April Monroe said, “they told us one more day and he wouldn’t be alive.”

Doctors were concerned Storm had a blood disorder, according to his mother, because the family was told by doctors that having clots after knee surgery is rare. Storm was placed on blood thinners, his mother said, and injected himself twice a day in the stomach from October 2016 until March.

“They ran test after test,” April Monroe said, “and they said if he had a blood disorder he wouldn’t be able to play football again. We prayed that it wouldn’t be that. His lifelong goal is to play college football.”

Storm was devastated.

“I’m not going to lie,” he said, “it was pretty scary and a big event in my life, but I’ve faced a lot of adversity before and a lot of different issues. I know me and I would do everything that’s possible and I was thinking the chance of not playing was as (small) as possible. But I was worried what would come next.”

Healthy and back on the field

In March, after the blood treatments, doctors delivered good news: Storm had no blood disorder and could return to football. He began working with trainers at school and a physical therapist after school to strengthen his leg. He practiced with the team in the summer, but didn’t participate in live-hitting drills because he didn’t feel ready.

In August, he finally returned to the field, still with his goal of college football in mind.

“All day, even the week before our first game, I was nervous,” he said. “To be real honest, I was super nervous. More nervous than my first varsity game as a freshman. I had lots of thoughts going through my head: How am I going to hold up? How is my knee going to hold up? But as soon as my feet hit the turf, it was instant clarity.”

Mooresville coach Marty Paxton said Monroe, who carries a 4.2 grade-point average, has an understanding of football rare for someone his age. He also said his determination and resilience is unlike any other player he’s coached.

“He just loves football,” Paxton said. “But the biggest thing I can say about him, and his story, is ‘Wow.’”

Monroe said what kept him going through the GBS, knee surgeries and surgical complications is the same thing that he used to tell his parents when was 7: He loves football and wants to play in college. Nothing, he said, is going to keep him from his dream.

“I’ve faced a lot of adversity,” Monroe said, “and responded with even more work and effort. I can honestly say whatever I do, it won’t surprise me because I honestly believe that when I step on the field that I can be the best player every single play because of the work and effort I put in.

“I told my parents when I was 7, my goal was to play college football. I’m a realist, that’s not easy. But at the same time, when it comes to football, I have the biggest goals and dreams in the world. And my true goal is to play Division I college football. Wherever that takes me after, we’ll see.”

Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr