Archdeacon: Don’t count out Issiah Evans

TROTWOOD – He said didn’t realize what had happened until he heard his horror-struck friend, James Gaddis, who was just a couple of feet behind him, begin screaming:

“Oh my god!”


“What the (expletive)!!!”

Issiah Evans – the 16-year-old, standout linebacker for the Trotwood Madison football team and 4.2 GPA student who’d already gotten college scholarship interest as a sophomore – said he “probably froze there for a few seconds not reacting.

“I just stood there in shock. I couldn’t see anything. The flash had blinded me.

“Before it started clearing up, I was thinking I was on fire because my whole body had gotten hot.

“I tried patting my body down and, as my eyes cleared some, I looked at my hand and was like ‘Oh God! Oh God!’

“I just started freaking out.”

He said the bloody, shredded remains of his right hand were sticking to his shirt.

“I started running around the yard,” he said. “I didn’t know where I was going. There was blood everywhere and I finally leaned on a fence. I was ready to pass out.”

It was late on the night of July 5. He had been visiting Gaddis, his former AAU basketball teammate, who lives on Myron Avenue in Trotwood.

Before he left – he usually tries to be home around 11p.m. – he’d been drawn back to a large, unexploded fireworks he’d seen lying in the grass. He thought it had come from one of the neighbors.

“It’s called an Onion,” he said. “It’s about the size of a fist.”

He didn’t know much about it, but had he looked on the internet, he’d have seen the large explosive is often unstable, always powerful and it’s illegal.

There are YouTube videos of Onions blowing apart test dummies and stories of children – from Broward County, Florida to Salford, England – being severely maimed by Onion explosions. At a fireworks plant in India, 17 people died from an Onion blast.

Issiah’s mother, Kim Nelson, would never let him and his twin brother, Garfield, have fireworks. She knows of two people who died from injuries sustained in fireworks explosions.

“But curiosity got to me,” Issiah admitted. “I picked it up, put it back down and then, just before left, I picked it up again and thought, ‘Let me light it and see what all the talk is about.’

“When it didn’t light on four of five tries, I thought it was a dud. It never sparked down. But when I tried again – I don’t even know if I touched the wick – it just blew up in my face.”

Blood was coming from above his right eye, his neck, chest, stomach and especially his two arms when he said Gaddis’s mom helped him into her car and rushed to Dayton Children’s Hospital.

“I was fading in and out,” he said quietly. “When I could focus, I was having these bad, these wrong thoughts.

“I’ve had a lot of injuries over the years. I just had an ACL surgery two months earlier. I’d had my first ACL back when I was 10. And over the past two seasons, I broke three bones in my hand, had a concussion, sprained my shoulder and fractured my tibia.

“But this was different. I was thinking, ‘OK, this might be my time. I might not get through this. I might die.”

As all this was happening, Kim had returned to their home with Garfield, who had been working – as Issiah does on weekends – at the Subway store she owns on Salem Ave.

When she didn’t see Issiah’s car – and he hadn’t called —she knew it was out of character. She called his phone and got no answer.

Finally, when she got a call from Issiah’s phone, a woman’s voice was on the line.

“My whole stomach just dropped,” she said as her voice began to break. “I have to be honest. At first I thought somebody shot my baby. “But the Mom told me he’d been hurt in a fireworks accident and they were headed to Children’s.”

Garfield was with his mother: “Mom was crying. She was really scared for him.”

“It felt like all my insides were burning out,” Kim recalled.

When he’d gotten to the hospital, Issiah said he reached for the door handle of the car and that’s the first he noticed something was terribly wrong with his left hand, too:

“I was like, ‘Oh God! What’s this?’ A chunk of my hand had been blown out and I could see the tendons.”

When Kim got to Children’s, she was overwhelmed by what she saw:

“He was on a trauma bed with like a thousand nurses and doctors around him. They’d cut his shirt open. There was a hole in his stomach and he was splattered in blood. They had blue towels wrapped around both hands and oxygen in his nose.”

Issiah endured a double dose of intense pain: “This might sound weird, but I don’t think I felt as much pain physically as I did mentally. I was over-thinking a lot and I had an anxiety attack while I waited for the surgeon. I couldn’t get my breath and I pulled the breathing machine off. It wasn’t working for me. I couldn’t calm down.”

It was just before dawn when Kerry Ivy, the Trotwood assistant coach and a mentor to Issiah, heard about the accident and hurried to the hospital:

“None of us really knew if he just lost fingers or he’d lost his hand,” Ivy said. “But as soon as I saw his mom, I could tell.

“She said, ‘It’s gone…His hand is gone.’”

‘He’s just a different kid’

Issiah said he was born 26 minutes before his fraternal twin.

“He just pushed me out of the way so he could be first,” Garfield said teasingly to his brother, who sat in the shade outside the dressing room at the school’s football field the other evening.

The Rams were going through conditioning drills and Issiah – just seven days out of the hospital and still bandaged and scabbed and lucky – had come to watch.

Although he was getting strength and inspiration from his teammates, he was giving it, too.

When a big teammate hobbled past slowly on crutches, Issiah asked: “You doing OK?”

The concern lifted the guy and he managed a smile.

And that’s classic Issiah Evans.

He’s always had a way of making things better.

“He’s just a different kid,” Kim said. “When he was five, he used to take a toothbrush and clean his shoes.”

In those days – but not now – Issiah was bigger than Garfield, who also was talented, but was more laid back.

Both boys played all the sports and Kim – who carried most of the load raising them and their sister – drove them to their games.

Once they got to high school, Garfield stopped playing football. He’s now in the choir.

Issiah – “a workaholic,” Ivy called him – was deep into sports and his books. In his first two years at Trotwood, he’s played varsity football, basketball, tennis and ran track.

“But I always figured, if I was out here with football ‘til 8:30 on a school night, then I should be up until at least ‘til 11:30 doing school work,” he said. “At the end of the day, I know what’s most important.”

That said, he’s been impressive on the football field.

“He was 14 and starting varsity for us as a freshman,” head coach Jeff Graham said. “He was thrown to the wolves and he did well. He’s a great athlete and a great student athlete.”

Ivy agreed: “I’ve been coaching 26 years and I’ve only had guys like him a couple of times. He’s just one heck of an all-round kid.” Last season – switching from an undersized defensive end to linebacker as a sophomore – Issiah was a defensive force for the Rams.

Ivy remembered one game, against Winton Woods, when he had 14 tackles and two sacks.

“Yeah, but we lost so you can’t put much on that,” Issiah quickly injected.

His play was catching the eye of college coaches and, in late April, Ball State showed up to offer him his first scholarship. But that very same day, he was diagnosed with a torn ACL, likely first injured in football.

Ball State left without making the offer and Dr. Jim Klosterman performed the surgery.

Immediately, Issiah returned to his football dream: One day playing college football and making it to the NFL.

“The day after his surgery he was doing push-ups,” Ivy remembered.

Issiah shrugged: “I like to finish what I started.” Earlier on July 5 – just eight weeks after his ACL surgery and a few hours before the explosion – he returned to the Rams weight room and squatted 185 pounds 10 times in a row. Ivy took a video of it.

“That was an accomplishment for me,” Issiah said. “I surprised myself. I felt good about that.

“And right after that I went to PT (physical therapy) and that was good, too.

“I was doing everything right that day.”

‘I could be dead’

Issiah remembers when he finally woke up after numerous surgeries on his two hands. Although his right hand was gone, doctors were able to do some repair work on he left, though more is needed:

“When I opened my eyes, I saw Coach Kerry right next to my bed and the first thing I said was: ‘You know I’m gonna play football again, right?’”

Ivy didn’t try to dissuade him and offered not only encouragement, but also examples.

A longtime area coach, he has a penchant for helping the underdog, the overlooked, the guy who needs lifted.

He had championed the late Bobby Martin, who was born with no hips or legs, and stood just 3-feet tall.

Undeterred, Martin played nose tackle for Colonel White and finished his senior season in 2005 with 48 tackles, several quarterback sacks and an ESPY award for Best Male Athlete with a Disability.

There are other examples of one-armed football players.

Shaquem Griffin started at the University of Central Florida alongside his twin brother, Shaquill, was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year and was taken in the fifth round of the 2018 draft by Seattle.

He played three seasons with the Seahawks and was on the Miami Dolphins practice squad last year. In March he joined the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the Canadian Football League.

Northwestern University has a freshman running back, Albert Kunickis, who has just one hand and Grand View University, has Trashaun Willis, a one-armed quarterback.

“If this happened to anybody else on the team, they’d be done,” Ivy said. “But I know the way he fights.

“We talked and I said, ‘Your hand is not growing back, so you’ve got to find another way.’ And he will.”

Pep talks aide, Issiah admitted to some real inner struggles:

“There are still moments when random bad thoughts pop up, but I know I’m really blessed. It could have been much worse. I could be blind. I could have lost both hands.

“I could be dead.”

‘Every time I see him, he gets better’

As he sat outside the dressing room, he lifted his T-shirt to show a scabbed-over stomach hole the size of a silver dollar. There were several other puckered wounds across his body.

You noted, though, that his face, except for the one eyelid, looked mostly unscathed.

And that’s when you mentioned his wisp of mustache.

“I’m gonna blame it on this,” he grinned. “This incident burned some of my moustache off. And I’d had a decent little beard, too.”

“What?” Garfield said rolling his eyes and laughing.

“A decent one?” Ivy razzed. “Yeah, almost 10 strands.”

All this – the banter, the camaraderie, the laughter – is good medicine for Issiah.

“He believes in what we do here,” said Graham. “He’s always bought in and that helps him now.”

As Issiah sat there, defensive coordinator Tre Williams-Brown walked up, reached out a hand and asked Issiah to squeeze.

Issiah managed a bit of a grasp and Williams-Brown grinned: “Oh yeah! He’ll be back about Week 7.

“Every time I see him, he gets better. And that gets us all excited.”

As protective as she is of her boys, Kim feels encouraged, as well.

This year Garfield came out for varsity football for the first time, mostly because he wants to dedicate the season to his brother.

“I always dreamed of seeing the two boys step onto the football field together,” Kim said.

The other evening they did stand in the end zone together as their Rams teammates worked out, but Issiah said they’ll be in a game together, too.

No one is disputing him.

And when that happens, he’ll have another answer to his friend’s horrified query that July 5th night:

“What the (expletive)!!!”

It’s just Issiah Evans, doing what he always does.

Like he said: “I like to finish what I started.”

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