By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

MONTAGUE – Eddie Caviedes has a right to feel a little bit cheated.

His storybook first season of varsity football – the kind most freshmen only dream about – has suddenly ended following a major collision with a much bigger player that led to a minor concussion.

Eddie Caviedes

Eddie Caviedes

He missed the chance to watch his Montague team clinch its first win of the season, and was stuck on the sidelines last Friday as his team won again.

Now he’s learned he’s going to sit out next week, too, when the Wildcats finish their season against Fremont.

“I cried the other day thinking about it, because I love football more than anything,” Caviedes said. “Football is better than anything else on earth.”

But the scary injury, which left Caviedes unconscious for a brief time, brought out the best in his teammates and opponents.

During the anxious moments following the collision, which occurred Oct. 10, players and coaches from Montague and North Muskegon displayed the type of unity and sportsmanship rarely seen on the field.

The players gathered together and prayed while he was treated, then held their helmets aloft in silent tribute as he was loaded into an ambulance.

News of the injury and the touching display of concern spread around the area and went viral on Facebook.

Caviedes was too groggy to notice his surroundings at the time. And he really wishes none of it happened, so he could still be playing.

But even at the tender age of 15, understands how impressive it was for intense football players from rival teams to demonstrate unity in a moment of crisis.

“I was so happy to hear about that,” Caviedes said. “Who’s ever heard of sportsmanship like that? Teams in our conference all heard about it and have been talking about it. I thought it was really cool.”

Unexpected success

Caviedes, a Montague running back, came to fall practice as a bit of a longshot to make the varsity roster.

For one thing, he only weighed around 130 pounds. And he was only a freshman. Most ninth-graders are more than happy to make the junior varsity team.

But Caviedes stuck with the Montague varsity due to his accurate kicking skills. Then his teammates started dropping off in significant numbers, due to injuries and disciplinary issues.

By midseason Caviedes was the Wildcats’ starting tailback, and he took the opportunity and literally ran with it.

He amazed everyone with remarkable skills in the backfield. He rushed for a total of 472 yards – nearly halfway to the magic 1,000-yard mark – playing about half the schedule.

Caviedes rushed for more than 100 yards in two games and was named Montague’s Player of the Game four straight weeks.

He was also one of the first recipients of a FIST award, given by Montague coaches to players who demonstrate they are “fearless, invested, selfless and tough.”

“He’s got a great initial burst when he gets the ball,” said Montague Coach Pat Collins, who added that Caviedes was considered the fourth- or fifth-string tailback when the season started. “I don’t think he’s a blazer in the 40-yard dash yet, but his toughness, along with his natural burst, equals starter.”

The down side was that Montague – a traditional local football power – has been experiencing its worst football season in years. The Wildcats started out a lowly 0-6, and some started to wonder if a winless season was about to materialize.

But in Week 7 the Wildcats finally broke through, beating a solid North Muskegon team 34-11. Caviedes played a big role in the victory, rushing for 123 yards.

But he didn’t get the chance to celebrate with his teammates. In fact there was no celebration at all.

Ugly injury, inspiring moment

There were about three minutes left in the game when Caviedes, playing on the kickoff squad, collided head on with a North Muskegon player at least twice his size. He was knocked unconscious, raising immediate fears of serious injury.

“It was kickoff, I was running down the field, and he was running kind of slow, so I started running extra fast to hit him hard, and I think I put my helmet too low,” said Caviedes, who says he still experiences headaches, but otherwise feels fine.

“I remember waking up to our trainer and hearing her voice. I couldn’t really talk, so it was kind of hard to answer her questions.”

The rest of the game was called off at the suggestion of North Muskegon Coach Mike Belmonte.

Caviedes was transported by ambulance to Hackley Hospital in Muskegon, where tests revealed he had suffered a minor concussion.

He didn’t lose his sense of humor following the injury. The next day, after reading a media report quoting Collins as saying he weighed 120 pounds, he texted his coach a photo of his feet on a scale, showing he weighed 139.

But Caviedes could not practice last week, and had to watch from the sidelines Friday as his Wildcat teammates won their second game of the year, a 39-12 drubbing of Hart.

Before the game he learned that his season is over, due to the necessary caution of doctors and school officials.

While Caviedes is upset about not playing, it’s nothing compared to the emotions his coach experienced the night of the injury. He was so concerned about his player – and so touched by the actions of the other players and coaches – that he couldn’t remember the score of the game when he talked to reporters that night.

“We’ve won a lot and lost a lot, but what really mattered was the way all of those kids responded to this injury,” Collins said. “That’s the kind of thing you’re looking for in this journey with kids. They way they dropped the competition and came together was truly amazing.”

Back in the locker room, after the ambulance left, several Montague players approached Collins with the helmet Caviedes had been wearing. They dropped it on a table and asked the coach to put it out of commission, noting that another teammate had suffered a broken leg earlier in the season wearing the same helmet.

Collins appreciated the sentiment, but declined the suggestion.

For one thing, the helmet was not to blame for either injury. And Collins sort of liked what it symbolized.

“I sat and thought about it for a minute,” Collins said. “Some may think (the helmet) is a curse, but I think it’s a blessing. That helmet was involved in two incidents that resulted in injury and sadness, but more importantly resulted in the type of conduct you want to see in a team, coaches and players. It brought out the things that are most important.

“That helmet is going to remain in use.”