On a sweltering 95-degree evening in September 2016, the Woodlands High School JV White team was threatening to win its first game of the season. This being high school football in Texas, the fans and players alike were practically in a frenzy. “I was really pumped,” said Highlanders linebacker Ryan Ferrini, then 16. “This was the game when it finally came together.”
With mere seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Katy Tompkins High School Falcons up 29–28, all the Highlanders had to do was go one yard for a touchdown to grab a dramatic come-from-behind victory. (Sounds like a scene out of the greatest football movies of all time.)
Instead, they gave the game away.
On the previous play, after the Highlanders had driven the ball deep into the Falcons’ territory, quarterback Will Gentry had connected with then-15-year-old receiver Austin Brauweiler at the three-yard line. As Brauweiler turned upfield, a Falcon defender delivered a ferocious hit, knocking them both to the ground at the one-yard line.
“There was a huge force, as if a truck had hit me,” said Brauweiler, who suffered a bruised bone from the collision. But it was the Falcons’ player who got the worst of it. He lay motionless on the turf. Trainers and coaches ran to his side. Five minutes later, he was still down. Game officials told Highlanders coach David Colschen that the teen had lost all feeling on his left side and an ambulance had been called. “I was freaking out,” said Brauweiler.
The EMTs arrived, and soon after, a call to a medical transport helicopter was made. That’s when the Falcons’ coach walked across the field and told Colschen that his players were too upset to finish the game and they would forfeit. Colschen wouldn’t have it. His team would. “It was the right thing to do,” said Colschen. “In life, the well-being of others is what’s important, not the scoreboard.” He gathered his Highlanders and told them it was time to support their grieving foes. To a player, they agreed.
After the injured player was airlifted to a hospital, the two teams took the field again. With the end zone and the Highlanders’ first victory tantalizingly close, the team’s center snapped the ball, the quarterback and his teammates took a knee, and the game clock hit zero. Game over.
The injured player, who prefers to remain unnamed, is out of the hospital and recovering, which is a relief to the Highlanders, who have never regretted their decision. “[What my players did] was amazing,” said Colschen. “I was surprised and encouraged that they were thinking not about themselves but about others.”