CHANNEL 2 SPORTS ZONE GAME OF THE WEEK
When big No. 74 jogs out onto Conley-Oakley Field with his Buford teammates tonight, folks will ooh and ah at his impressive size and athleticism and wonder who from Lovett will have to face this giant in the trenches. But Vadal Alexander won’t play in the Channel 2 Sports Zone Game of the Week (7:30 p.m., Comcast 248/Charter 126). And considering what he’s been through the last four months, he’ll be happy just to be there on the sidelines.
That’s because the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Alexander spent most of this past summer needing a walker to get around. His greatest feat each day was getting out of bed. His once-legendary squat, which peaked upward of 600 pounds last May, was reduced to zero by June. “If that,” he said.
Arguably the top offensive lineman in the state in the Class of 2012, Alexander was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome the first week of summer break. He said he first noticed symptoms during the last practice of the school year at Buford.
Little did he know then the medical journey that would commence.
“It was at practice,” he said. “I just felt kind of weird. My legs went out and it just kind of went down from there. I just thought it was the flu or a cold or something. All of the sudden there was this full blown thing and it was like, ‘Wow.’”
Wow is right.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome is an autoimmune disorder affecting the nervous system. It us usually triggered by an acute infection, such as influenza. It is characterized by weakness and usually affects the lower limbs first, rapidly progressing in an ascending fashion. After experiencing “rubbery legs” that tend to buckle, within days patients soon loose control of arms and facial muscles. In some cases, respiration can be affected. In worst cases, people die from it.
So instead of going to the beach and attending football camps as he had planned, Alexander found himself seeing neurologists, being injected with wicked-strong antibiotics and seeing himself be reduced to a shell of the athlete that had recruiters drooling from Baton Rouge to South Bend.
“I was on a walker for about a month and a half,” Alexander said. “It was crazy. You go from being on the field doing your thing, grinding and sweating and all that, to needing a walker to get around. . . . But that was at its worst.”
It was shilling transformation for Alexander’s coaches and teammates to witness.
“It’s sobering,” Buford coach Jess Simpson said. “For us as coaches, it’s about I want to see this kid walk and live a healthy life again after what he went through. For the kids it shows how fragile and how fast all this can be taken away from you.”
But the worst is over for Alexander now. He’s on his way back. To look at him today one would never know anything was ever wrong.
In fact, if it were up to Alexander he’d play in tonight’s game against Lovett. He was an integral part of last year’s Buford team that came into Atlanta and lost to these Lions 28-21. For the Wolves, that defeat snapped winning streaks of 49 regular-season games and 58 region contests.
“I was actually about to play last week, but I sat down with my parents and Coach Simpson and we talked and decided to hold off for a couple more weeks,” he said. “We’re going to have another meeting and see where we are now and see if I’ll play next week and see how it works out. We’re just being cautious.”
Remarkably, through it all, Alexander never had a “woe-is-me” moment.
“I knew it was all in God’s hands and he had a plan for me,” said Alexander, an outspoken Christian. “There’s a reason this happened. So I just thank Him for helping me through this. I’ll be back in tip-top shape; I pretty much am now. If it’s His will, everything will be completely fine. I think it is. It’s about time for me to come back.”
Meanwhile, college recruiters have never left his side. Without attending a camp or a combine during what’s usually a critical time in recruiting, the summer before one’s junior year, Alexander emerged with scholarship offers from Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee.
“I plan to go on visits very soon, if not this weekend then the rest of the college season,” Alexander said. “I’m still being heavily recruited; I still have all my offers. I guess they trust me and realize I still want it. I’m still getting letters every day.”
Where might he end up in college? That is the least of Alexander’s concerns at the moment.
“I’m just wide open right now,” he said. “All this happened this summer and I’m just trying to get back on that field underneath those Friday night lights. So I haven’t been leaning any one way or another right now.”
For the time being, standing upright is reward enough.