Archdeacon: The ‘zillion-to-one’ story of Chris Hudson

OXFORD — He wasn’t feeling thankful.

He was frightened. He was lost.

He was mad at the world…and, for a lot of reasons, rightly so.

It was September 11, 2016, and Miami University’s powerfully built wide receiver Chris Hudson was lying in Mercy Hospital-Fairfield. His right knee and leg were destroyed by a cheap shot from a trash-talking Eastern Illinois defender the night before at Yager Stadium.

More than the speculation that his dream of a pro career was lost, there was the worry he might lose his leg, as well.

The terrible circumstance was the latest in a series of bad breaks, bad decisions and bad luck that had roiled his life the past few years.

Before his sophomore year at Yates High School in Houston, he had followed an AAU coach to Hazard, Kentucky, a culture shock switch from a city of 2.3 million to an Appalachian town of 5,000.

The school he first went to, Cordia High, would soon be sanctioned by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association for, as KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett put it, “the most wanton and blatant disregard of association rules in its 97-year history.”

Abandoned by that AAU coach, he ended up at Hazard High as a junior and, along with basketball, he played football for the first time. Eventually he visited Wright State and was offered a basketball scholarship.

At the same time, Chuck Martin, the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, took over the moribund Miami football program. The RedHawks had had just one winning season in the previous eight years and were coming off an 0-12 season and mired in a 16-game losing streak.

“When we got the job in December of 2013, we basically started calling everybody we could, to see who might still be available,” Martin said. “I called Tony Alford at Ohio State – we’d worked together at Notre Dame – and he said, ‘Hey, there’s this big, freakish athlete in Hazard, Kentucky. He’s a Power 5 specimen when it comes to size, strength, and athletic ability, but he’s only played a little football in his life. He’s on our board, but we’ve never talked to him and aren’t doing anything with him.’”

Miami sent two coaches to watch Hudson play basketball, offered him a football scholarship on the spot and he headed to Oxford for the fall of 2014.

“In my mind I thought I was going to play right away, but my transcripts were so jacked up – I’d gone to three high schools in four years – that I didn’t have the right credits, so I had to redshirt,” he said. “Once I came to grips with that, I was OK.”

Not quite, remembered Martin, who had inherited a bunch of players who weren’t used to winning and weren’t open to his demands. There was a clique of older malcontents and when Miami promptly lost its first five games in 2014 to extend its losing streak to 21 games — the longest Division I streak in the nation — the dissidents swayed some of the younger players including Hudson, Martin said.

The next year Hudson played and had some noteworthy games — he caught four touchdown passes — but Martin said he didn’t get along with the coaches and trainers and barely spoke to him: “He didn’t like anybody here.”

By year three, Hudson felt he was ready to break out. But early in the second game against Eastern Illinois, he abandoned a go route when Miami quarterback Billy Bahl was forced to scramble out of bounds.

He had slowed and was near the Miami sideline when an Eastern Illinois defender barreled into him from his blind side.

Unfortunately, Hudson said his cleats caught in the FieldTurf and the torque of the collision destroyed his knee. As he crumpled into a heap — his right lower leg bent at an odd angle — he said the defender taunted him.

He ended up with a torn hamstring, ACL and PCL, dislocated his knee and suffered severe nerve damage. Over the next 23 months, he’d undergo four surgeries.

“I remember being in the hospital bed early on, just crying, crying and crying,” he said. “I just felt lost. I’d thought I was Superman and figured I’d never get hurt.”

He said he called his mom, Rhyneta Norton, back in Houston: “She said, ‘You’ll come out of this like the Bionic Man.’” He said he didn’t know what she was talking about and after he hung up, he was at a loss trying to figure out “what I was going to do the next few minutes, the next few days, the next few months.”

Martin was thinking the same thing when he went to the hospital. He said a doctor told him there was a better chance Chris would end up disabled than ever playing football again: “He also said people had lost their leg with this injury.

“And when I walked in to see Chris, the two of us were just not in a good place. He didn’t want to talk to me. Didn’t even want to look at me.

“But I also knew this was an 18-year-old kid who had been through a lot and was in a bad place and in terrible pain…And deep down, I knew he was a good kid with a good heart.

“I also knew, though, he had come to school to play football, not get a degree. I started to fast forward: ‘With football gone, where does this end up? Does he end up living on the street?’”

Hudson’s parents — back in Houston but separated — didn’t have the means to come stay with him.

He couldn’t return to his house in Oxford where he lived with two other football players. With classes, practices, and away games, they couldn’t give him round-the-clock care.

And Chris had distanced himself from Catherine Bond, the classmate from Long Island he’d become friends with freshman year and briefly dated.

Martin felt a responsibility, but it was football season, and he was spending most of his waking hours trying to right the capsized ship that was Miami football.

And that’s when he came up with the idea he now defines as “lunacy.”

He called his wife Dulcie, who was back home with their two young children, Max, and Emma.

He asked to not only bring Hudson home with him, but wanted her to care for him, even though he was so incapacitated he couldn’t even step up one step without excruciating pain and plenty of help.

Even though she didn’t know Chris — except that she’d heard he barely spoke to her husband and was angry at everybody else — she agreed.

“Chuck knew I could be just as hardheaded as Chris, but I would take care of him,” she said. “At that point, he needed a mother, a nurse … a friend. When you’re a coach’s wife, they all become your children when there’s a need.”

Chuck said he initially put a mattress on the living room floor so Chris could lay there. Soon a downstairs office was converted to his recovery room.

Dulcie’s cousin, Jeanette, helped her care for Chris. The two helped him bathe and go to the bathroom. They got his food and administered his meds, took him to doctors’ appointments and sometimes debated his views.

“He’s a very set-in-his-ways kind of man,” Dulcie smiled. “Here’s an example. He said he doesn’t eat cheese and never would. And when I tried to sneak it into something, he wouldn’t touch it.

“He also said, ‘I will never get married. Never. You can never trust someone.’”

The two argued and shared stories and laughed and became great friends.

“Over the course of time, the two were like this,” Martin said holding up his index and middle fingers pressed tightly together. “It wasn’t a mother-son deal, it was more big sister-little brother.”

As Dulcie put it: “Looking back, I tell Chuck, ‘How could you have done that to me? You brought a large, angry young man into our house I didn’t know and asked me to deal with him’…But now, I can’t imagine my life without Chris.”

‘A gift to coach’

Martin said the two smartest things he’s done — eclipsing even reviving Miami football to its wondrous 9-2 season this year, the first time in 20 years that the RedHawks have won nine games — is having Dulcie care for Chris and letting Chris “hit rock bottom.”

Although Chris went through several surgeries to repair his decimated knee and damaged nerves, he was left with a drop foot — size 17, no less — for almost two years.

Meanwhile, his interest in school waned. He didn’t want to go to class or do the coursework. At first, he was put on academic probation and then he was suspended. “Finally,” said Catherine, who became his girlfriend again in February of 2018, “they were ready to kick him out.”

An emotional meeting in Martin’s office ended with the coach, who’d stepped up for him on multiple occasions, saying: “I’m out of bullets. That’s it.’”

Late that summer, thanks to the research of Miami’s longtime trainer, Paul Eversole, and the innovative surgical work of Dr. Robert Raines, Chris’s drop foot was fixed ... and his attitude lifted with it.

With considerable help from Catherine, he’d already been petitioning his professors, and any administrator who’d listen, to give him one final chance.

Behind the scenes, Martin talked to Miami athletics director, David Sayler, about one final opportunity, as well. And Chris found a real champion in Melissa Chase, Chair of the Department of Sport Leadership and Management.

He got back into school, knuckled down and graduated in 2020.

With their relationship rekindled some, Martin talked to Hudson about his future and how he thought he’d be a good coach.

He’d watched him coach his son’s rec league team — a ragtag bunch “from the land of misfit toys” Martin laughed — and said Chris was amazing with them.

“The players loved him,” Martin said. “God gave him a gift to coach.”

Chris helped coach the Indian Hill Middle School football team in 2019 and was a part-time coach at Walnut Hills the following year. In 2021, he was an assistant coach at Mount St. Joe and last season he coached wide receivers at Concord University, a Division II school in West Virginia.

He wanted to return to Miami as a grad assistant but didn’t have the necessary undergrad academic work so he took several courses at Concord to bolster his chances.

On Christmas Day of 2021, he reversed his ban on the gold band and proposed to Catherine after first embracing old school tradition and getting her parents’ approval for the marriage.

When Catherine accepted his proposal, the first person he called was Dulcie.

The couple wed last Feb. 18 at Rosemary Beach in Florida’s Panhandle and Chuck and Dulcie were there.

After Miami’s Spring Game, the Hudsons and Martins went out to eat and Chuck gave Dulcie the honors.

She proudly told Chris, with him accepted into grad school at Miami, he would be an offensive grad assistant on Chuck’s staff this season.

“It was a full circle moment for me,” Chris said quietly.

‘I’ve got a lot to be thankful for’

The final regular season game of this wondrous Miami season is Saturday at Ball State. The RedHawks already have earned a berth in the Mid-American Conference championship game against Toledo at Ford Field in Detroit on Dec. 2. After that, they’re assured of a bowl game invitation.

“Miami football hasn’t felt this good in a long time,” Chris said with pride.

One of the things people marvel about most this season is seeing him running down the sideline at practice, never breaking stride as he passes that same spot where his dream seemed to die seven years ago.

Then there was the video Martin took of him at Max’s Sunday night men’s league basketball game in Mason. Chris had joined the team and though he still played with a brace, he wasn’t limping.

He was dunking.

“He was dominating the game like he was Shaq out there,” Martin said with a grin. “I took my phone out and started shooting a video and he was taking the ball behind his back and between his legs and throwing no-look passes.

“I got tears in my eyes watching that and I sent it to Paul, our trainer, and he was in tears, too. And I sent it to my wife and said, ‘Look at your guy! He’s having fun!’

“Paul sent the video to a couple of the doctors who did Chris’s surgeries, and they all were crying. They couldn’t believe it.

“It’s a zillion-to-one story.

“He’s back almost healthy again and he has a wonderful wife and he’s shown he’s going to be a great coach. It’s just an amazing story.”

Chris finally agrees with Martin:

“I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. I wouldn’t be here today without the help of multiple people who never gave up on me even in my darkest hours.

“Chuck and Dulcie let me stay at their home and took care of me and went to bat for me and did everything they could for me. They treated me like family.

“And there are all my doctors and the physical therapists and the trainers and my professors and tutors, too. They all got me back to where I am.

“My time at Miami University has brought some of my most challenging lessons, but also made me who I am today.

“And after what happened, I believe, 100 percent, I’ve come back a better person. I learned patience.”

“And humility,” Dulcie added. “And trust.”

Chris nodded: “I learned a lot.”

But not everything.

He may have relented on marriage, but not cheese.

“Nope,” he said. “I don’t eat it.”

About the Author