NASHVILLE — The best moment of Ohio Valley Conference Media Day had nothing to do with a witty quote, a snazzy suit or any crazy prediction. The best moment came when Tennessee State football player Christion Abercrombie sat at the same table with his teammates for life — Dante Ferguson and Chris Rowland. His smile lit up the room and earned standing ovations on Monday, and rightfully so.
It truly is amazing that Christion was back with the Tigers less than a year after one of the scariest incidents in college football in 2018. During TSU's game at the SEC's Vanderbilt, nobody cared that the Sept. 29 game was exciting and close when Abercrombie collapsed on the sideline, given oxygen and then was rushed to Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He was in emergency brain surgery shortly afterward, as apparently a collision shortly before he collapsed had done more damage than anyone could have imagined..
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Things were touch and go for several days as he slowly improved, and by December he was able to go home for short stints. Now, it's July 2019 — 10 months later — and here he was with his teammates and head coach, Rod Reed, once again. Earlier this year, he was also able to get up to Nashville from his Atlanta home for the spring game, which was another big step in his recovery from an injury some felt he might not come out of.
Seeing his teammates on Monday and being a part of OVC Media Day — and receiving the first OVC Courage Award from Commissioner Beth DeBauche — was just one more step in his recovery.
"It's been great, every time I see them I smile," Christion told HERO Sports when asked about being with his buddies again. "I love them so much. I see a big season coming for them."
The comeback hasn't been easy for Christion, a former 3-star prospect who originally signed with the University of Illinois out of high school before coming back closer to his Georgia home by signing on with Tennessee State. He had just begun his Tigers' career in 2018 when the head injury occurred against Vanderbilt.
He described the path back, with just a slight change in his speech pattern but a clear ability to express what has been going on.
"It's a lot, first off I had to learn to start walking again," Christion said. "Then I transitioned to a facility for walking and to be around people and stuff again, and then I went to a therapist where I lift weights and workout again. Now I'm taking online classes at Tennessee State and I'll probably be back in school in the spring."
Through the past year, Christion's mother Staci and his father Derrick have been rock solid foundations, and two members of the Tennessee State athletics staff on-site for OVC Media Days told HERO Sports that Staci is the strongest woman they'd ever met.
Staci remembers the day of the injury as very hot, and at halftime, she went to get a cold lemonade. When she came back, she began to enjoy the TSU marching band, and when the teams came back out, she and her husband noticed Christion wasn't on the sideline. Her son's roommate flagged her down and said Christion was at the hospital. At first, she thought it was a hydration issue (not unprecedented with Christion), but when they arrived at the hospital, she and her husband found out Christion was unconscious and it was much more serious than they thought.
The surgeon came out after surgery and told Staci and her husband that he had done everything he could do and that he didn't know if Christion would come out of it all.
"I didn't know I had the strength that I have until this injury occurred, I'm the one who has to control everything," Staci told HERO Sports. "But it was at that moment that I learned it was an incident I couldn't control and I had to basically give it all up to God and He definitely provided. We are just thankful for the miracle we have in Christion."
By Sunday night, a day after the sideline collapse, a source close to TSU informed HERO Sports that people in the program had been told the swelling had gone down. By Oct. 14, he was upgraded to stable condition and was taken off the ventilator. A few days later he was discharged from the hospital in Nashville and was able to be moved to a brain injury rehab center in Atlanta, close to home.
Since the injury, Staci said Christion has become more spiritual — not surprisingly after all he and his family have been through. He has improved every day since, and has worked hard to rehab his body after such a critical issue. He began traveling in the spring and even announced a Tennessee Titans' NFL Draft Pick this spring in Nashville. His spirit is soaring, and his family is right there with him.
"Somebody said recently that our lives were put on hold, they were," Staci said. "But it was with purpose. It was what we had to do. I just tell anyone whatever you're going through you have to have faith and you have to trust God."
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