ELKHART — On Saturday, Sept. 7, this year, Dylan Rost woke up in his own bed like any other day.
The difference was, he had no idea how he had gotten there the night before.
Or actually much about that Friday.
Rost is a junior safety for the Elkhart Memorial football team. A tough kid from a family of coaches, Rost is a three-sport athlete at Memorial and a strong student.
The night before — on the sixth play of a game against Goshen — Rost made a break on a ball from his safety spot and reached the receiver as the ball was getting there. Neither player saw the other coming and Rost's helmet hit the receiver's shoulder pads.
He would be helped to the sideline and left Goshen's Foreman Field with his parents at halftime.
The diagnosis? A concussion, and a major one at that.
"Honestly, I don't remember much from Friday at all ... I can't even tell you anything about the game, I just saw the play on tape,'' Rost said. "It's really weird, I can see pictures in my head from that day, but only a couple. I remember what I wore to school and I remember having to get a parking pass and even the normal things we do in pre-game. But it was more of a view of what I saw when we were doing it.
"When I woke up in bed, it was almost like a movie, I had no idea why I was there or how I had gotten there. It definitely shook me up. I was just out of it for two or three days and I just slept a ton. It was scary.''
Rost would miss the next three days of school before going back for half days until the following Thursday, nearly two weeks after the play at Goshen. He would also miss the Chargers' games against Northern Lakes Conference rivals Warsaw and Plymouth.
"It was a very long recovery process and it definitely set me back in school,'' Rost said. "It wasn't even the assignments really, it was just trying to understand everything that was being taught and then do all the work too. It took me a good three weeks just to catch up, not just a weekend of work.
"Once I felt good enough that I could do things, it was only for very short periods of time. I started with, what can I do in 30 minutes? Then I would take a break and if I felt OK, then I'd do another 30. It was obviously very tedious. There was no way I could just sit down and get everything done that I wanted.''
But despite the scare, along with the fact that concussion injuries are now taken much more seriously than in previous years, Rost had no doubt that he'd return to football. To his teammate and coaches.
"I was absolutely coming back,'' Rost said. "I love football and if anything, the injury made me love it even more. You work so hard in the off-season, you do a lot of lifting and summer work and then you only get nine regular season games. You know your time on the field is limited and you don't want to spend it not playing.''
To help keep Rost as a part of the team, Memorial defensive coordinator Jeff Miller let the junior FaceTime with the Chargers in their meeting room prior to a practice while he was out of school.
"That was really cool,'' Rost admitted.
While Rost was glad to get back on the field to practice and eventually play in Memorial's game against Culver Academy on Sept. 28, he admits it wasn't easy to start hitting again.
"Everyone knows football is a tough sport and very physical,'' Rost said. "It's not a contact sport, it's a collision sport ... anyone that plays knows that. You can't play timid or worry about getting hurt, that's when things can happen.
"I won't lie, it was harder to play fearless and make some plays. You think about it happening again and how bad it might be this time. You have to stay aggressive, but make sure you tackle with your head up. It's football, so you're going to put yourself in danger sometimes because there are things you just can't avoid sometimes.''
Since those first few games, Rost says he's feeling much more confident on the field.
"I feel that I'm back playing at 100 percent again and I feel that I'm back to being myself on the field,'' Rost said. "Not that I wasn't able to play at the same level when I first came back, and if you watched the film, you couldn't tell. But it just felt different until I started to practice a little more and play in games.''
Rost said having his mother and father in coaching helped during his time dealing with the injury. Dylan's dad Scott is the baseball coach at Memorial and has also been an assistant football coach for a number of years, while mom Jacquie is the athletic director and volleyball coach at the school.
"Growing up, my dad coached me a lot in football and we're a football family ... we'll watch it nonstop,'' Dylan said. "Having grown up in a competitive environment, we all knew the risks of playing football and you have to be OK with that because you love the game.
"With my parents both being coaches and having them around sports 100 percent of the time, I felt taken care of and they helped me never be extremely scared. They were calm about the injury and their composure helped calm me down quite a bit.''
For Jacquie Rost, the initial injury and dealing with such a severe concussion for her son was obviously not easy.
"As parents, we were both pretty shaken up when the injury occurred,'' Jacquie Rost admitted. "Sitting on the sideline and experiencing the drive home with him at halftime was scary because of his initial reaction to the injury. Both Scott and I have had athletes with concussions in our coaching tenure, but I had not personally seen one that severe with the symptoms that he was displaying. Coupled with the emotion involved when it's your child, it was pretty unnerving.
"When it's a head injury, it's only natural to have a different level of fear as well. It's impossible not to think: How could this have impacted his brain? However, the medical personnel that we dealt with, including Goshen's team doctor at the game, our trainer Amy Schultz and our team doctor, Dr. (Ryan) Forman, were all wonderful. Everything they told us would happen, did in fact happen, so that put our minds at ease.''
But Jacquie Rost admits, seeing her son back on the field — in the heat of a battle — has been tough.
"I know that he's been given the proper training for tackling ever since he started playing youth football,'' Jacquie Rost said. "I am confident with his football and athletic skills, knowledge of the game, and body awareness. Because of this, I know that when he can control a situation in football, he is safe. However, his injury reminds you that there are many parts of a sport that the athlete doesn't control. There was nothing dirty about the hit he took in the Goshen game. The Goshen receiver was doing his job to catch his quarterback's pass, and Dylan was doing his job as the safety to try to intercept it.
"The truth is that all sports have inherent risks and it's our job as coaches to control what we can control in terms of training and practices, and then prepare our athletes to compete as safely as possible. My rational brain knows all of that and that's what I have and will continue to tell my athletes' parents; however, I would be lying if I told you that I wasn't, as a mom, holding my breath a lot during his games after the injury and anxiously awaiting when he got up from the ground after a tackle."