When Hickory Grove’s Alec Parsons plays high school football each Friday, he must wear a brace that helps him raise his foot when he runs. An injury last year that ended his sophomore season left him with a severely mangled knee, a torn nerve in his lower leg -- and left him facing grueling rehabiliation.
But Parsons, a 17-year-old junior offensive linemen, never doubted he would return to the sport.
“I love football,” he said. “I always loved football. Everybody in my family played football.”
Parsons’ older brother Colin (6-foot-3, 260 pounds) was part of back-to-back state championship teams at Butler High in 2009 and 2010. Colin played in college at The Citadel. Their father Kevin was a 6-3, 240-pound starting linebacker at Nebraska in the 1980s, playing for legendary coach Tom Osborne.
At 5-10 and 205 pounds, Alec doesn’t have the size of his father or brother, but he shares their love of what Hickory Grove assistant coach Jared Sanders calls “old-school, hard-nosed football.”
“If Alec was bigger, he would be a low (Division I) or high (Division II) college recruit,” said Sanders, who is Parsons’ offensive line coach. “This kid plays football like somebody from the old-school days. He wants to put his head down and flatten people. He wills it. He’s not the biggest and strongest, but he’s a legit ball player.”
In September 2014, in Hickory Grove’s second game, Parsons was blitzing on defense and tried to plant his leg to avoid being blocked. An offensive linemen fell at his feet as a fullback ran into him from behind. Then, the lineman rolled up on Parson’s leg.
“I knew something wasn’t right,” Parsons recalled. “I was in shock. The trainers came out, and as soon as I stood up my leg was real loose. One of the people helping me off the field didn’t quite give me enough support and I ended up putting some weight on the leg. It gave out and I felt the most horrible pain I ever felt.”
Parsons couldn’t feel his foot. Worse, he couldn’t move his foot.
“I was terrified,” he said. “When you break something, you can still move it and feel it. I just didn’t know what was wrong.”
Doctors told him he’d torn three of the four ligaments in his knee, strained the fourth ligament badly and had a partial tear of a bursa sac in his knee. He also damaged a nerve that ran down his leg to his foot.
Three weeks after the injury, Parsons had surgery to repair the knee. By December, he was walking without crutches. In March, doctors operated to repair the nerve damage.
Doctors said it would take time for the nerve to regenerate, and Parsons must raise his leg higher than normal when he walks to keep his foot from dragging. He is gaining mobility, he said.
Parsons also was fitted for a brace that helps lift his foot. It also was adjusted to allow him to play football, fitting beneath a protective knee brace. Parsons was cleared to return to the field in August, and this season he has made more than 20 pancake blocks, when an offensive lineman puts a defender on his back.
“He’s amazing,” Hickory Grove coach Mike Pondo said. “He trained with us every day in the offseason and made it back for the second game this season, and he’s started every game since.
“Last week (against Mountain Island Charter), he drove a 5-8, 350-pound nose tackle 10 yards and put him on his back. Just an unbelievable work ethic this kid has. You’ve got NFL guys who couldn’t come back from this.”
Parsons said he never thought about giving up football.
“When I first came back, it was the best feeling to get back out there and prove I could play again,” he said. “That was the big question. Nobody knew if I could play. I did, though. I always knew.”