San Jose High lineman Isaiah Espinoza still wasn't happy Friday afternoon about his football team losing to arch-rival Lincoln, 55-13, in the annual Big Bone Game on Thanksgiving Day -- a loss that spoiled an undefeated season. But he also put it in perspective after just being released from Valley Medical Center.
Espinoza spent Thursday night in the hospital's intensive care unit after suffering a spinal contusion. The injury had resulted in a frightening scene as the 70th annual holiday game was halted for 30 minutes while paramedics treated Espinoza on the San Jose City College field before he was taken away by ambulance.
"It was scary," said Espinoza, who was wearing a neck brace and experiencing some leg weakness even after leaving the hospital. "I'm very thankful that I wasn't hurt worse."
Both coaches said they were breathing a sigh of relief because it originally appeared that Espinoza was much more seriously injured.
"That's great news," Lincoln coach Kevin Collins said. "It just puts a damper on everything when somebody gets hurt. And you never want to see something like that happen."
A 6-foot-2, 265-pound junior right tackle, Espinoza had just finished making a block midway through the fourth quarter when the injury occurred. Espinoza said he felt his helmet being pulled back "and then after that I blacked out. Next thing I know, everybody was standing over me asking me what happened and if I was OK. The only other
Collins provided game film that appears to show that Espinoza was hurt by unintentional contact with the upper leg of a Lincoln defensive lineman. Espinoza's low block had brought down a Lincoln defender on top of him. But as a second Lincoln lineman who also had been knocked down was getting back to his feet, he caught Espinoza's face mask with his thigh -- yanking up Espinoza's neck.
Espinoza never lost movement in his extremities, but he had a tingling sensation throughout the left side of his body and in his fingertips.
"As a parent of four kids with three boys who have played football, something like this is gut-wrenching and emotional," San Jose coach Darrell Williams said. "I've seen my child down on the field before, so I know what this feels like. I was just trying to comfort his mother ,because she was breathing so hard and so upset."
At the hospital, X-rays and an MRI exam indicated there was no structure damage to Espinoza's neck.
"When the nurses and doctors told me that everything looked good, that's when I started to relax," he said.
Espinoza's injury comes three years after an even more terrifying incident at the Big Bone Game. In 2009, San Jose star Matt Blea needed life-saving brain surgery at Valley Medical Center after suffering a hairline skull fracture.
"It was kind of freakish to have this happen again," Williams said. "As a new head coach here, I'm very familiar with that story. But thank goodness that this isn't as bad."
That injury ended Blea's playing career. But Espinoza said he'll be back for his senior year.
"I'm just looking forward to next season," he said.
Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.