Back Brace Don’t Care, Koenig’s Return

By Jeremy McDonald

STAYTON, Ore.—It felt like a football evening in Stayton at Stayton High School.

It’s dark at 5pm, 5:30 in the evening.  The Oregon rain is off-and-on.  The lights of the stadium are on and buzzing.

On the field, there were no popping of the pads.  No cheering of fans or the collisions sounds of lineman hitting another.  No, it was just 7-on-7 on this Thursday evening as literal neighbors Stayton and Regis were hosting a 7-on-7 scrimmage.

For the Rams Mason Koenig, a Junior, it’s been a long road as he went out for a route at Tight End before focusing on Linebacker.  Wearing a weight lifting belt, which Koenig joke was restricting his breathing playing the position and running around, he was back on the field after nearly a two-year hiatus.

“It’s nerve-racking.  I’m so thankful that I even get to be out here,” said an emotional Koenig thinking about it.  “I could be in a wheelchair, but I am so thankful for everything.  All my doctors…it’s super nice.”

Koenig trying to blink out the rain out of his eyes Thursday night at Stayton High School (Picture By Jeremy McDonald)

It all started his freshman year.  Next-to-last game of the year against Monroe, Senior Night for Regis is where things went off the tracks for Koenig.

Playing linebacker, he dropped to play nose-guard in a run-stopping defense the Rams wanted to run.  He lined up against one of the Dragons 300-pound lineman at center in the 47-0 Dragons victory when a fumbled occurred.

Koenig went after the ball that October evening, but the behemoth against him landed on him.  Injuring two of his vertebrae in his spine in the process, but it wasn’t until the next morning where the signs of something off started to show.

“It was scary,” Koenig said.  “The next morning, we had film and it hurt to get out of bed.  Like I could barely move, I just wanted to stay in bed.  I didn’t go to film that morning.  I went out for like a play and it was fine, but after that I told my mom my legs hurt and my back hurt.

“We went and got an X-ray about three weeks later after football season ended and they told me I broke my back.”

Koenig and Regis went across the way Thursday to scrimmage Stayton in 7-on-7 (Picture By Jeremy McDonald)

Imagine that.  14-, 15-years-old and being told you’ve already busted up your back.  Scary times for sure knowing that you have your whole life in front of you. 

The first three months of the recovery process he couldn’t do anything to let those two vertebrae heal.  Then the next three months he could only do core and couldn’t lift, something that killed Koenig inside because he love of lifting.

Slowly however, he was on his way back.

“It was kind of nerve-racking that I couldn’t do anything.  I put on some weight and that was a real down, but now I feel great,” said Koenig.  “I have to wear this (the brace), which isn’t super fun but it really helps.”

He’s gotten use to the brace.  Moving around with it, making defensive strength calls and communicating with his defensive backfield against the Eagles Thursday night.

Stayton’s skill positions challenged Regis’ skill positions through the off-and-on rain, both teams getting their reps in (Picture By Jeremy McDonald)

“It’s not that bad.  I’ve gotten use to it, I’ve wore it all Summer.  But it’s fine, it’s kind of annoying because it restricts my breathing a little bit but other than that I’ve gotten use to it by now,” Koenig.

Koenig took his sophomore year off.  He couldn’t run without pain last year and it just all added up for the Regis athlete.  But the year off did help Koenig not just heal physically, but work on himself mentally.  Working on the mental game, breaking out of his shell and becoming more social as well in the process.

“It was definitely all mental,” he starts.  “I prayed a lot more; I couldn’t do anything much more physical but I definitely hung out with friends more and talked more and I’ve became more social which is nice.

“I came back this year and I’m like, ‘I’m ready to go’.  Now I’m ready to put pads on and hit some people at this point.”

Thursday was just another day in the long-journey back to health and to get back to some sense of normalcy for Koenig playing with the brace on.  Communicating, running and dropping back in coverage.

He looked as if he hadn’t been one weird turn from worse than he was two years ago.  It was truly a blessing in disguise for Koenig.

“Oh my God it’s so nice, like I said I can’t wait to put some pads on and hit some people.  I’m a pretty hard hitter, I’ve always been.  I’m so excited, you couldn’t even imagine.  It’s just so nice,” he said.

Photos By Jeremy McDonald

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