‘This was deeper than football’: Trotwood-Madison junior returns to field after knee injury, fireworks accident

TIPP CITY – Emotions, too many for anyone to articulate, flooded Issiah Evans. He breathed heavily and fought for words to describe the past five months of his life and, more specifically, the previous two-and-a-half hours.

“This was deeper than football,” he began.

Evans and his Trotwood-Madison teammates had just lost their fight with Tippecanoe, 43-14, in the second round of the Division III playoffs. This game, the one Evans pushed and disciplined himself to be ready for, was his only game this season.

“It meant everything,” he said. “I feel like I made the impossible possible. I came back from an ACL surgery seven months early. Got cleared at five months. They don’t clear people for nine to 12 months. Lost my hand. I’m probably the only person in Ohio. ...”

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Then he looked at his right arm where he used to have a hand, and the words stopped. The memory of the worst night of his life – the night he fought to stay alive, the Fourth of July, the fireworks accident that blew off his hand – made the emotional flood swell. Then he looked up with a resolve to not talk about that night.

But it was hard to fight those thoughts because his arm ached from the beating it took in the game. Instead, he talked about the pain in his heart. And yet it was difficult to not talk about everything at once.

“This loss right here really hurt ... I really don’t know what to say,” Evans said. “This hurts, and I did everything I could, but it’s not about what I did. I could have done better, I could have avoided certain situations, I could have put us in a place where we made the stop.”

If Evans didn’t make every play he could have made, his coaches and teammates won’t hold it against him. His first practice was the Tuesday before the game, and the coaches wanted him out there. He is a 6-foot-1, 205-pound linebacker who college coaches were interested in after his sophomore season.

“This was hard but it was worth it,” Evans said. “It wasn’t about myself tonight. This was about trying to get my brothers and my teammates in the right situation. I wanted to move forward because I wanted to get a win.”

Evans played with a pad at the end of his right arm wrapped in tape. He fought through the pain and played more than 30 defensive snaps.

“It seems like he was the only one moving in daylight speed because everybody else it seemed like they were in water, and you could see No. 9 making plays,” Rams head coach Jeff Graham said. “I’m just so proud for him and his mom and for the docs and everybody that’s been supporting him.”

By playing, Evans made good on his July 5 promise.

“That night this happened there was no telling that I would wake up ever again,” he said. “It was no telling that I would get through that night. So the next day I woke up, my cousin was sitting right next to me, Coach Kerry (Ivy) was sitting right next to me, and I made a promise I’ll be back this season.”

During the second half, one of Evans’ teammates, junior Mickey Styles, was injured, and Evans made another promise.

Styles lay on the field for 20 minutes, not permitted to move because of a possible head or neck injury. Before he was carted off the field, his jersey was cut off. Evans took the No. 22, promising to honor his injured teammate, who is now doing well and out of the hospital.

“Nothing is promised,” Evans said with the No. 22 jersey draped over his shoulder. “He left it out here, so it’s only right for me not to leave him. I’ve got a story to tell, and I’m willing to write my story now, one that has a happy ending.”

Evans wants to his teammates to help him write that ending. He wants the team story to be the one everyone follows next fall.

After the traditional postgame talk with coaches, the players bowed their heads for the Lord’s Prayer. Evans laid No. 22 on the field in front of the team. “The stuff that he does ... I mean, he’s just a special kid,” Graham said.

Then Evans asked Graham if he could speak privately with the team.

“I told him of course because you’re a leader of this team,” Graham said. “I know he gave them a speech about this season, what to expect in the offseason and the things we need to improve on. And that’s what a winner does. And that’s what a leader has.”

The players stood and listened as Evans spoke passionately while holding No. 22. He focused on the only thing he’s been focused on since July: the future. He pleaded with his teammates that the time to start preparing for next season is now. The Rams started only two seniors on Friday. They expect to be better next season and to make a much deeper playoff run like the ones the Rams made when they won state championships in 2011, 2017 and 2019 and finished second five other times.

“It’s just straight work now,” he said. “We don’t want to be the wasted class. We don’t want to be the forgotten class. We want to be remembered forever. We want to get our guys to school. We want to ... we just want to win. We want to be one of those Trotwood teams that made a run, a Trotwood team that will be remembered forever.

“That’s what we’re fighting for.”

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