VAN BUREN, AR - Nine months ago, a Van Buren teenager experienced what he thought was a concussion on the football field.
But his injury was far worse than he imagined, and his family says it's a miracle he's alive today.
The Hubbards have always been a sports family.
"Shooting sports, track and field, long distance running," says Anthony Hubbard. "But not football."
At six years old he was instantly drawn to football after watching a game with his Grandma.
"He begged me for two years and finally I looked at Anthony and I said 'you're going to have to let him play,'" says Sarah Hubbard.
While the game was fun as a kid, it wasn't until junior high, and a bet with dad, that Tristan realized his full potential.
"It was a couple of games into the season and I hadn't got any tackles. And my dad said I'll give you five bucks for every tackle, and I think I had 10 tackles that night," says Tristan. "He stopped doing that after the first couple of games.
Tristan Hubbard's bright future in football was just beginning. And heading into his Junior season at Union Christian in Fort Smith, his ultimate goal was set.
"Get to go play for the University of Arkansas and be a Hog," says Tristan. "And then graduate from there and maybe get drafted by the Packers, my favorite team."
The first game of the season fell on a hot late August night. Storms had just rolled through the area, and while Union Christian was down early, Tristan was dominating on defense.
"It was the best game I think he'd every played," says Tristan's mom Sarah. "I mean they kept calling his name over and over and over again for tackles.
In the midst of the game of his life, one play was about to put Tristan's life on the line.
"It was a third down play and our quarterback threw a pass and he got hit as he threw and he threw an interception," recalls Tristan. "Well, as I made the tackle, my head scraped the ground in a weird awkward way. When I got up, I had no idea what was going on. I thought we were on offense still."
"They line up quickly and run a play and he isn't there," says Glynn Stewart, defensive coordinator. "And they take it to the house for a touchdown. Well, I'm saying where's Tristan? And that's when we all knew something was wrong."
But Tristan stayed in the game.
"It was just a stinger," says Tristan. "That's all I thought it was."
By the fourth quarter Tristan had 10 tackles. But the pain had grown too strong, and he took himself out.
"The first time that I realized something was wrong they asked him 'can you walk?' And he said 'no I can't,'" says Sarah.
"So we laid his very tall 6-foot-2 frame in the backseat of my Kia," says Kathy Hubbard, Tristan's grandmother. And I said Tristan 'what is wrong?' And he goes 'mama my head, my head, my head.' I knew then that we had more than a concussion. I knew then we had a bleed."
Kathy Hubbard, a nurse herself, immediately drove her grandson to Mercy Hospital where her fear was confirmed. Tristan had a large bleed on the right side of his brain.
Emergency surgery revealed Tristan was born with two additional bridge veins on his brain, and when he hit the ground, they tore.
"They said that there's no amount of safety equipment that could have kept that from happening," says Anthony.
Football really saved his life," Kathy says. "Because we treated it with urgency that we otherwise might not have treated it with."
Tristan was out of the hospital within days. But his quick recovery was soon crushed with a new reality. Tristan could never play football again.
"It's mind-blowing," says Tristan. "That you had that taken away from you."
"You're ten feet tall and bulletproof," says Anthony. "And suddenly they tell you you're not. And that's a hard pill to swallow."
Despite being told he could never play football again, Tristan attended every Union Christian game the rest of the season; serving like an assistant coach to the team.
While his dream of playing professional football is over, his love for sports is still as strong as ever.
"I didn't see this as giving up," says Tristan. "I saw this as another opportunity. Another chance."
"I've decided that I may want to do something in athletics."
And as Tristan looks toward the future, his grandmother looks back at that late August night with pictures she took of a rainbow before the game.
"I was back at work and I was sharing this with one of my pharmaceutical reps," recalls Kathy. "And he noticed the football team underneath one of the rainbow pictures that I had. He said 'where's your grandson?' So I blew it up on my iPad and I said he's right there. And he says 'look the rainbow is pointing straight down on top of Tristan.'"
Kathy believes it's a sign God was with her grandson that late August night, and the scar on Tristan's head is simply a reminder of the football game, the rainbow, and a miracle.
Tristan's grandmother truly believes it's a miracle he's alive. They hit every green light on the way to the hospital, and the only neurosurgeon in town wasn't supposed to be in Fort Smith that night but he was.
As for Tristan, he says he's interested in a career in coaching, and he knows God has a plan for his life.
Reported by Brad Reed, Fox News Edge, Fayetteville, AR
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