The family of a 16-year-old linebacker who collapsed on the field on Friday tells FOX 9 there are no words to express how grateful they are to the surgeons who removed half his skull, but those doctors say coaches helped save the boy too.
Luke Nelson suffered a concussion two years ago and was later cleared to play, but the injury he suffered on Friday's game was much more serious. His parents still believe extra-curricular sports are very beneficial for young people even though their son is not likely to play again.
Concussions are common in sports, but doctors say what happened to Nelson was much more serious.
"He's well on the road to recovery, but just to be clear, to get a hit to the head enough to cause tearing of the veins is significant," Dr. Andrew Kiragu said.
Kiragu said Nelson is lucky to be alive.
"I think, in a sense, it wasn't his time," he said.
Time was of the essence, and Kiragu credits coaches with recognizing the symptoms of such a serious brain injury and acting quickly to get help.
Brooklyn Center coach Will Finley told FOX 9 News the culture about head injuries was much different not long ago.
"You just shook it off, you staggered back to the huddle, you got your feet underneath you and you started playing again," he said.
Now, players and coaches watch closely for the signs of a concussion. Some players with prior injuries, like Tyler Joles, even use special helmets.
"You can see the difference in the padding," he demonstrated.
The Minnesota High School Football League already prohibits helmet-to-helmet hits and coaches are teaching safer ways to give hits and take them.
"We even do some tackling drills with no helmets just so our kids don't try to use the helmet as a weapon," Finley explained.
As for Nelson, his mother told FOX 9 News the injury that caused him to collapse on the field likely came from several hits. A CT scan found bleeding in his brain after the gifted athlete went into convulsions on the playing field. Doctors are cautiously optimistic that he will make a full recovery, but it's still unclear if he'll be able to play again.
"After an injury like this, I think a return to sports would have to be taken with a great deal of caution," Kiragu said.
Even though doctors removed half of Nelson's skull to alleviate the pressure on his brain, he continues to make progress and is alert, even joking with his family. He's been walking and working with physical therapists, but still has a long way road to recovery.