MikeCheck: Tennessee State draws strength on Abercrombie’s progress from critical head injury
MEMPHIS – On several nights over the past two weeks, no matter how physically and emotionally draining times have been, Rod Reed’s work day has ended with a trip to Vanderbilt Medical Center.
And each time, a little more hope is restored.
That was the case again the other night, when the Tennessee State football coach drew upon another source of energy he probably never knew existed. Another crucial college football game is only a few days away. But the only battle that truly matters to most in the program and many throughout the Nashville community is the one that involves TSU linebacker Christion Abercrombie’s fight for his life.
Each day produces another small victory.
“He’s showing some improvement, doing some things that are really positive,” Reed said of Abercrombie during this week’s Ohio Valley Conference football coaches teleconference. “So we’ve just got to keep praying and hoping he continues to progress on a daily basis. That’s a very good sign, and all of those things show that his brain is functioning at some capacity.”
Reed’s latest update came on the heels of an encouraging report from Abercrombie’s mother, Staci, who revealed on social media her son is showing stronger signs of recovery. Abercrombie sustained a severe head injury during a Sept. 29 game against Vanderbilt that required emergency surgery. He has remained in critical condition at Vanderbilt Medical Center the past two weeks.
Tennessee State head coach Rod Reed on the sidelines during Tigers' match against the Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
But on Tuesday, Staci Abercrombie posted, “Christion is so strong. He squeezed my hand so hard, my knuckles were popping.” Her update came a day after another family member posted that Abercrombie gave him a “thumbs up” sign in response to comments made by the relative.
Abercrombie, a sophomore from Atlanta, has received an outpouring of support locally and throughout the sports world. Last week, the NCAA authorized a TSU GoFundMe account to raise money to support Abercrombie and his family. And the family was also allowed to receive $7,500 from the national College Football Assistance Fund to help with travel and some living expenses.
TSU (2-2), the lone Black College football program in the Ohio Valley Conference, has managed to press on during an emotionally devastating season. Players symbolically carried Abercrombie’s helmet and No. 6 jersey onto the field and placed them on the sideline as they emerged from the locker room for last Saturday’s game at Austin Peay. A similar gesture is expected when TSU, losers of two straight after a 2-0 start, travels Saturday to Murray State.
At least two opposing coaches during Tuesday’s OVC weekly teleconference mentioned TSU and offered support and encouragement for what the program and school have endured. It’s been a rocky season for the Tigers on and off the field. They opened the season Sept. 1 with a blowout home win over Bethune-Cookman University, but then saw their next two games – the Sept. 8 Southern Heritage Classic in Memphis and the Sept. 15 game at Hampton - cancelled by bad weather.
The 21-day layoff ended with the game at Vanderbilt, where Abercrombie made five tackles in the first half and helped the Tigers to an early lead. He came to the sideline late in the first half to complain of a headache and soon collapsed. Abercrombie was taken immediately to surgery at halftime.
“You’ve got to deal with the emotions of teammates. And me, personally, it sets you back a little bit. You’re focusing on football, but you’ve got a guy who was fighting for his life – and still is. That takes a toll on you."Rod Reed
During a joint press conference last week with Vanderbilt doctors and TSU school officials, Abercrombie’s parents repeatedly expressed their faith in God and gratitude for the medical staff for working quickly to get Abercrombie into surgery. Reed also attended last week’s press conference and has remained in constant contact with Abercrombie’s mother for updates on his condition.
“Obviously, she texts me every time something good happens, and I’ve asked her to do that for me to keep me abreast of things going on,” Reed said. “I’m really happy for him and the family right now.”
Reed admitted it’s been extremely difficult for everyone involved with the program to focus on football.
“You miss two games because of weather, and then you go in and play really well over at Vanderbilt and then have what happened happen,” Reed said. “You’ve got to deal with the emotions of teammates. And me, personally, it sets you back a little bit. You’re focusing on football, but you’ve got a guy who was fighting for his life – and still is. That takes a toll on you.”
TSU’s players, coaches, administrators and Abercrombie’s relatives have held vigils both in Nashville and Atlanta in recent days to support one another through the ordeal. Reed said the football program has pulled together through an unimaginably difficult time.
“It’s like we’ve told our kids in practice, the season is not going to stop,” Reed said of the Tigers, who have not played a traditional home game on campus in six weeks. “We’ve got to keep going. We’ve got to press forward.”
After an extended day of team practice, film study and coaches’ meetings on Monday in preparation for Saturday’s game at Murray State, Reed left the office that night to visit Abercrombie. Several TSU players had already beaten Reed to their teammate’s bedside.
“A lot of guys throughout the day are going over to the hospital to check on him,” Reed said. “I went over … and there were a couple of guys already there. It is tough. There’s a lot to balance there, but we’re going to get through this. Our thoughts and prayers are always with Christion.”
And so are their actions.
MikeCheck HBCU Power Poll 5.0
1. North Carolina A&T (5-1):
North Carolina A&T (5-1): Looks like the Aggies are definitely back on track now, with quarterback Lamar Raynard accounting for five touchdowns – three through the air and two on the ground – to cruise past winless Delaware State. N.C. A&T goes for its third win in a row entering what shapes up as the HBCU game of the week against FAMU for first place in the MEAC.
Last week’s ranking: 1
Up Next: Saturday vs Florida A&M (4-2)
2. Morehouse (6-0):
I promised in last week’s Power Poll that if the Maroon Tigers got past Tuskegee to remain unbeaten, it would be impossible to discount their NCAA Division II status. Well, Morehouse is on a mission and survived another thriller, this time for a 30-24 win in triple overtime against their SIAC nemesis. Tiny but tough tailback Santo Dunn ran for 125 yards and 3 TDs.
Last week’s ranking: 4
Up Next: Saturday vs Albany State (3-3)
3. Prairie View (3-3):
After playing six consecutive games in a dizzying span of 36 days, the Panthers enjoyed a much-needed bye over the weekend to rest up for the stretch run. Already with a win over defending champion Grambling, Prairie View looks to resume its torrid pace on offense and basically take a two-game lead over the West with a win against Southern.
Last week’s ranking: 3
Up Next: Saturday vs Southern (2-3)
4. Florida A&M (4-2):
Seemingly doomed for disaster after last month’s frustrating home loss to Jackson State, FAMU tightened its defensive grip and ran off three straight wins. Last week’s 17-0 victory over Norfolk State was the program’s first shutout since 2010. Now, first place in the MEAC is on the line when the Rattlers carry their 3-0 conference mark to Greensboro.
Last week’s ranking: unranked
Up Next: Saturday at N.C. A&T (5-1)
5. Tennessee State (2-2):
The good news is that the Tigers, who have lost two in a row, rank second in the Ohio Valley Conference in scoring defense. The problem is they’re giving up 30.8 points a game in a league where shootouts are rampant. It’s putting a ton of pressure on QB Demry Croftand an offense that’s averaging 482.8 yards and 34 points to stay in striking distance.
Last week’s ranking: 2
Up Next: Saturday at Murray State (2-3)
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