OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A Woodward High School football player is on the road to recovery after a serious neck injury left him with a spinal cord injury.
“He’s doing good today. His spirits are really high,” said Dennis Samarco.
“He wants to walk again. He wants to get back to being a normal 18-year-old and a senior in high school,” said Dakota’s dad, Dennis Samarco.
The collision that led to the devastating injury happened during a practice drill on the first day of full pads and contact practices at Woodward High School.
“Worst case scenario, he would be pretty much paralyzed from the neck down,” he added.
“I’ve been through a lot of emotions since it happened. And, you know, just to see positive things like this, it means a lot to me,” added Woodward head football coach Rick Luetjen.
Dakota underwent surgery for a herniated disk in his neck and is now in recovery at the Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation Center on Western Avenue.
“They had to go in and decompress the spinal column from the C2 vertebrae to the L2 vertebrae,” said his dad.
One look at Dakota in his power chair Thursday suggested a troubling outcome, but according to his parents, Dakota was healing well ahead of schedule.
“You know, we just we love him and his work ethic is extremely high. And that’s the reason he’s progressing the way he is. And we’re expecting to get him out of here in a few weeks, hopefully,” said Coach Luetjen.
“[On] a typical day? Oh, they are kicking my butt. They are making me do just about everything,” said Dakota.
“[But], If I want to be walking when I get out here, it’s worth it.”
“He’s got a lot of power in his legs, in his lower half. He can pretty much pull his knees up to his chest now. He’s starting to get a lot more movement in his left arm, [and] two weeks ago he had none,” he added.
Through it all, Dakota and his family said the Woodward community has been an incredible support for them.
A large group of teammates, coaches, family and friends gathered Thursday at the rehab center to wish him well before a scrimmage against Crossings Christian School.
“[In the end] It’s not about wins and losses or any of that stuff,” said Coach Luetjen.
“These will be friends for life,” he added.
“The relationships they make in high school football will go much farther than anything else that they ever do.”