By Matt Mauney | Staff Writer
Everything happens for a reason.
That was the message new Strawberry Crest head football coach John Kelly sent to his team after the Chargers’ season opener against crosstown rival Plant City.
But the statement wasn’t in reference to the Chargers’ 21-7 win, which will go down as one of the signature wins of the season for Kelly and one of the biggest in the history of the Strawberry Crest program. Rather, it was in reference to the possible outcomes of a scary moment that occurred with seven seconds to play in the game.
On what would be the final play of the game, senior linebacker Andrew Zuluaga was injured on a hit and lay unconscious on the field for nearly 20 minutes. Paramedics on the scene tended to Zuluaga, and he was eventually carried off on a stretcher and taken to the hospital.
It was determined later that he suffered a broken nose and a concussion. According to Kelly, Zuluaga was released from the hospital Sunday morning and walked out on his own power. Fortunately, a CT scan revealed no swelling or bleeding.
Zuluaga had a follow-up with his primary care physician Tuesday and will be back with the team as soon as he is cleared, Kelly said.
The game was called after the injury.
Zuluaga’s injury puts the spotlight on a glaring problem. Hillsborough County has been under scrutiny in the past for the lack of full-time athletic trainers. About two-thirds of high schools nationally have no certified athletic trainers on staff. That ratio is far worse in Hillsborough County, where only a few of the 27 public high schools — as little as two, according to Kelly — have full-time trainers.
And although two paramedics and an ambulance typically are stationed at every football game, the lack of athletic trainers slows response times dramatically. The paramedics took as long as a minute to get to Zuluaga after they were alerted of the injury.
“Every high school needs to have an athletic trainer at every game,” a shaken Kelly said after the game Saturday. “The school district says (it doesn’t) have the money to support trainers, but things like this shows why it’s absolutely necessary.”
Fortunately, Zuluaga’s injury didn’t end up as serious as it could have been, but others around the state and the country are not so lucky.