Jordan Webster was driving about 50 miles per hour down US-49 at 6 a.m. on the morning of Oct. 18 when a flash across the road roused his dozy mind.
Webster, a senior at York who was headed to work at the Windy Hill Orchard, jerked his girlfriend’s Saturn Vue to the right to avoid the phantom critter and nearly went off the road. When Webster corrected the vehicle back onto the highway, traction control kicked in, gripping the wet tarmac and catapulting the SUV left and across the road toward a ditch. Webster jerked the Vue back toward the pavement again but drove through a pothole, breaking the steering wheel casing and column, and sending him and the SUV left again. He went off the highway and smack into a tree in front of a turkey farm.
Talking Tuesday at York’s football practice, Webster is pretty sure the flash in the dawn that nearly killed him was a squirrel.
When Webster advises fellow linebacker Tyquan McCray, a promising sophomore who stepped into the Cougars’ lineup when Webster was lost for the year because of injuries from the accident, he tells McCray to never take steps back when the ball is hiked, to only move forward.
It’s good advice for Webster’s own life, which suffered a jarring setback when the accident happened a month and a half ago.
In the split second before Webster and the SUV whacked the tree nearly straight on, he said he tried to protect his face.
Didn’t work very well.
He gashed his lip, head and the bridge of his nose when his face smashed into the car’s stereo, and when his seat was scrunched forward suddenly by the collision, his knee was jammed up into the dashboard, embedding a plastic piece from the Saturn into his leg, breaking his kneecap.
Worse yet, the seat’s violent motion forward broke off a piece of Webster’s pelvis, popping his hip out of socket. Webster was air-lifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, and the first several surgeries installed a pair of plates on his pelvic bone, so the hip would stay in place. Fortunately, Webster was leaning slightly toward the center console when the accident happened; the doctor told him that had he been seated upright, he would’ve broken his back in a number of places.
The accident cost Webster his senior year of football, and a chance to play in Saturday’s 4A Division II state championship game against Spartanburg. But consistent with his advice to McCray, Webster isn’t taking any steps back.
“Everybody’s said it or heard it before, it’s a minor setback for a major comeback,” he said. “I want to play at the next level. It’s always been my dream to play college football. In the long run, I’ve just got to keep working hard and keep my mind on the goal and I’ll be there.”
When Webster got to the hospital after the accident he remembers about 10 minutes of the experience before silent black. He clearly remembers the first people he saw when he woke up.
“Coach Carroll and his wife (Sherry) come up there and he told me ‘come on, get up.’ That’s how me and him are; he messes with me a little bit,” said Webster. “It was still Saturday and I told him ‘I’ll be at practice tomorrow.’ I don’t remember but they swear up and down that I said it.”
Fortunate to still be living, Webster hasn’t practiced since the accident. After five days in the hospital, he was able to go to the following Friday’s game, a 30-14 York loss at Fort Mill. Webster was surprised to see stickers on every player’s helmet, a black circle with the number 22 on it, his jersey number.
York senior Daurice Simpson said the team wanted to wear the stickers because “He’s definitely a leader on our team.” With the stickers, he’s now literally on the Cougars’ minds.
Webster’s appearance wasn’t enough to help York against a tough-running Fort Mill squad. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior was one of the leading tacklers in the area before the accident, but as much as anything the Cougars needed his leadership in a team full of quiet guys.
“And our leader was in a wheelchair,” said Carroll before Tuesday’s practice at the school. “We really missed him because Fort Mill is a running football team and we really needed him in there.”
Webster transferred to York in the summer from Rock Hill. He and his mom, a single parent, had moved back to Sharon, where Webster was born. In the short time Webster was involved with the York program, he made a quick impact on his teammates.
“He fit in really quick,” said York quarterback Deshaw Andrews. “He got real close with everybody. It was crazy when (the accident) happened.”
On the first play of York’s scrimmage against Spartanburg in August, Webster busted through the A gap between the center and the guard and popped Vikings standout running back Tavien Feaster, dropping him for a loss. Such was Webster’s success that the Cougars coaching staff moved starting linebacker Brandon Garvin to running back and installed the newcomer in his place.
The Spartanburg scrimmage “felt like a coming-out for me,” Webster said. “I knew I could do it. I was a Cougar since I was a little boy, so I enjoyed being out here. I loved being in my hometown, in Sharon, and being around my family. The guys took me in like I’ve always been here all along.
“I wish I could still do it, but it’s still enjoyable to me being on the sidelines with this family that I’ve made.”
Since the accident, Webster has been hard at work chasing full rehabilitation. That involves hours of stretching, stationary bike work, and any lifting that he’s allowed to do. Carroll said he’s confident that some college coaches will be interested in the hard-nosed linebacker.
“If the opportunity comes and I’m offered a scholarship, maybe not a full ride but something little, I will accept it, gladly,” said Webster. “I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea for someone to take me.”
Webster told his teammates after the wreck that he’d be ready to play if they got to the state championship. But Saturday’s state title game against Spartanburg came a little too soon.
“He’s been here since June and he’s been a huge part, mainstay of the defense, and was really a vocal leader as well as led by example in the weight room,” said Carroll. “We miss him on the field, but he’s still here with us leadership-wise.”
Webster has shirked crutches ahead of schedule, but his gait is still marked by a limp. He’ll carry the plates and screws on his pelvis for the rest of his life, and will need to get an identification card that says so if he ever wants to successfully pass through airport security. Still, armed with teenaged optimism, Webster went to Charlotte on Tuesday for a Hail Mary shot at being cleared to participate this week.
“I was raised by my mom and I’m kind of an emotional person, and the doctor was telling me, ‘I can’t let myself put you out there and something happen,’ ” Webster said. “I broke down a little bit, because it just sucks. Football has been my life since I was a little kid, and to think about how hard I worked every offseason to kind of get where I wanted to be. But, I don’t think it’s over. The good Lord has a plan for me.”
After talking with a reporter Tuesday, Webster remained at York’s practice talking with coaches, teammates and the training staff. But he wasn’t able to stomach watching practice until this week, the feeling of missing out too heavily yoked on his teenage shoulders.
“It gets tough sometimes,” said Webster. “But this is my family, these are my brothers. I talk to the linebackers before every game just like they’re my real family; same for the rest of the team. I guess I’m kind of a motivator.”
There was no way Webster wouldn’t be involved this week, as the York program tries to take its biggest steps forward in nearly 30 years.
“I’ll be on the sidelines, be in the locker room, I’ll be with everybody all week,” said Webster. “Saturday, I’ll be early and on the way to Columbia, just like I’m playing.”