From the Bench: Despite Year Ending Just Prior to the Playoffs, BHS's Hathaway Proves Leader to the End

By Jeff Toquinto on November 19, 2023 from Sports Blog via

As one of the senior leaders on Bridgeport High School’s football team, Tanner Hathaway has had his share of conversations with Coach Tyler Phares. On Oct. 27, despite the setting being about as bad as it could possibly be for Hathaway, his message was one a leader does regardless of the circumstances.
Hathaway was going to make sure his teammate was ready to go.
“I told Coach Phares to tell Timmy (Jeffress) to block his butt off,” said Hathaway.

The statement with no context is not out of the ordinary for a player of Hathaway’s caliber. The context in which it came, however, speaks volumes to what he is and why his situation was a bitter pill for the Indians football team to swallow.
The comment came with 9:11 showing on the fourth quarter clock. It came with Bridgeport clinging to a precarious lead in what turned into a 28-21 win against an ultra-talented Linsly squad out of Wheeling. It also came as Hathaway was being carted off Wayne Jamison Field with an apparent neck or spine injury that initially left him without much feeling in his extremities and, at the time he was heading off the field, with no feeling in his hands.
The good news? Even before departing the field Hathaway had regained feeling in his hands. The better news? He is on his way to a full recovery.
The not-so-good news? According to his mother Amber Hathaway, his injury was two-fold: a concussion and a spinal concussion. And the not-so-good-news part two?
He did not know it at the time, but his high school football had come to an end one game before the regular season ended and before the Indians’ latest playoff run. Phares said it hit hard on multiple levels learning Hathaway would not be back.
“It’s tough on everyone, but I can’t imagine how tough it is on him even though he’s handled it better than just about anyone could,” said Phares. “Here’s a kid that worked his tail off to contribute for us in the regular season and the playoffs and you see it; from August to when he was injured. We lost more than just a wingback and an outside linebacker on the field. We lost a team leader on the field because he’s one of those guys the kids and even the coaches look up to because he does it the right way.”
Although he missed action this year due to injury, he acquired impressive numbers in seven games. He carried the ball 48 times for 385 yards and 9 touchdowns. On defense, he managed to amass 30 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss and an interception. He also was credited with half a sack.
As the numbers show, he was playing the right way up until the injury. Hathaway recalls it vividly.
“It was on the wing around play. I went through line, got wrapped up by the leg and was lunging for extra yardage with head down and their linebacker put his head down at the same time and we made hard contact,” said Hathaway. “I felt pain all the way through my body and my arms went numb.”
He knew immediately he was not going to get up. And he did not try.
“The pain was so bad. I didn’t want to risk anything by trying to get up, but with my arms like that I immediately went to move my legs, and did, just to see if I had feeling,” he said. “Even with that, I knew something was way off.”
Immediately, Bridgeport’s medical staff and trainer were on the field. He was not sure if he had something wrong that was new from the contact, or it was the result of a bulging disc in his back he had been dealing with.
“I just didn’t know what was going on. Honestly, I was scared, but I also didn’t want to overreact,” he said.
Hathaway got stabilized by the medical professionals who are always there. Along with stabilization, they provided comfort.
“They told me they were taking all the steps they were taking to be precautionary,” said Hathaway.
He had another visitor on the field as well – his mother.
“I don’t do well with that kind of stuff even if it’s not my kid or I have no idea who it is. I was pacing and thinking I know that I can’t go out on the field. As a mother, I decided it needed to anyway,” she said. “Once there, I was able to breathe a little sigh of relief even though we weren’t sure what we were dealing with.”
The aforementioned good news of him gaining feeling throughout his body did not deter an evaluation. He was taken to United Hospital Center and the emergency room where his jersey was torn off and a neck brace was put on.
“They did an MRI on my head and neck and didn’t find anything wrong, so they took me the neck brace off,” Hathaway said. “They did tell me I had a concussion.”
As for the spinal concussion, that news came later. Multiple days after the incident, he was at the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute on the campus of Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown. It was there that he got the news.
“I didn’t even know it was a thing. It’s a super low percentage of people that get this,” said Hathaway.
He would find out that both concussions would heal on their own. The spinal concussion, however, will take time and playing football was out of the question.
Essentially, the diagnosis was the end to another in a long-line of selfless players the Indians have had for decades. And Hathaway cuts toward the very top of the list.
“He just brough into what we were doing on offense as a wingback. He’s a big reason we’ve had so much success because of his ability to block. He puts the defense in a tough position because he’s treated like an extra tight end on our down block,” said Phares. “On defense, a lot of it is predicated on pushing the ball horizontally, sideline to sideline, and his skill as an outside linebacker made us push the ball his way because he was so good playing in space.
“Honestly, this game teaches you that things aren’t always fair,” Phares continued. “Add to the fact that he battled back from injury last year just to make a bigger impact this year.”
Hathaway has dealt with injury before. Last year, during the game with Robert C. Byrd, he fractured his shoulder and missed the rest of his junior year. The saving grace was he knew by getting healthy he had his senior season to look forward to.
“The odd thing is being in that situation last year helped me this year,” he said. “I knew what my role was once I found out it was over. I knew I had to be a coach on the sideline and help out in any way I could.”
One final note is a good one. Hathaway is expected to be healthy to run his senior season of track. Like football, he is pretty good at it. In fact, he is a returning state champion. Hathaway was a member of the Class AAA state championship 4x100 team that won with a time of 43.13 seconds.
“I’m looking forward to track, and also ready for the future,” he said. “I’m going to focus on applying to the Air Force (Academy).”
Whether he gets into the academy or not, one thing is certain. The sky is the limit for Hathaway.
Editor’s Note:I Top photo shows Tanner Hathaway breaking off a run in the Linsly game that he was injured, while he battles for yardage against Fairmont Senior in the second photo. In the third image, he looks to bring down a Polar Bear from his linebacker spot, while the fourth photo shows him celebrating a touchdown with Beau Ford. The fifith photo shows Hathaway running for yardage in the season-opening contest with Buckhannon-Upshur and that is followed by Hathaway walking with his parents on senior night. In the bottom photo, from left, is Lucas Anderson (senior last year), Ty Martin (senior last year), Timmy Jeffress (sophomore last year, junior on football team and teammate who replaces Hathaway at wing), and Hathaway on the podium after their 4x100 relay win at the Class state track meet last school year. Cover photo shows Hathaway breaking away against Robert C. Byrd. All photo photos by Joe LaRocca. 

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