MARTIN, Tenn. – Junior defensive back Fred Flenorl was discharged from Cane Creek Rehabilitation Hospital in Martin Friday afternoon less than 24 hours before his teammates play their second game without his prowess on the gridiron.
Flenorl suffered a season-ending neck injury during the homecoming game Oct. 6 against Eastern Kentucky at Hardy M. Graham Stadium.
“I know what happened to me ended my football season,” Flenorl said. “That was the end of my football season, and now it is a new season. You determine when you come back and this is my comeback season. I give God all the glory. Everybody tells me how blessed I am and I realize that.” Flenorl said he thanks God constantly that he is able to walk and talk. “This injury has been an eye opener. What stands out the most to me is that I trust God.”
The 20 year old married football player from Memphis says his injury has made him want to give back. “I have been thinking of ways to give back. I am a mentor at the elementary school and a “Pigskin Pal” and I want to thank all the kids who have prayed for me and provided for me and my wife during this injury.”
Giving back is not new to Flenorl who always helped his father, Fred Senior, make food baskets and cook Thanksgiving dinner for those less fortunate. “We would do this every year, but when my father passed away about a year ago, I stopped,” Fred Junior said. “I want to do this again.”
Before Flenorl can get on with his comeback season he will have to continue his physical therapy. With 5.8 seconds to play in the first half against Eastern Kentucky Flenorl went to make a tackle. He hit his opponent in the head with his head. The blow was so hard, that Flenorl knocked himself out.
“I didn’t realize it was Fred that was hurt until I looked for his number on the field and I didn’t see it,”wife Jennifer Flenorl said. Jennifer said she quickly raced to the field but had no idea about what was going on. “When the helicopter landed I started crying.” Fred was airlifted to Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, about an hour from campus. “My mom, his sister and my two sisters drove to Jackson as fast as we could. We were even pulled over by the police because we were going so fast.” Jennifer said Bart Belew, UT Martin’s assistant athletic director for athletic training, was at the hospital when she got there and that helped. Jennifer quickly learned that Fred would have to be transferred to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville for surgery.
“We wanted the best thing for him and that was to go to Nashville,” she said. Fred underwent a two-and-a-half hour surgery on Monday, Oct. 8, to fuse C3 and C4 vertebrae. Jennifer, her mom, Fred’s sister, Jennifer’s two sisters, Fred’s mom, UT Martin athletics director Phil Dane, Ralph Wilkerson (head football coach Jason Simpson’s father-in-law) and several others waited in the waiting room.
“The doctor came out and told me everything was fine, ‘but’ there was another issue. “As soon as I heard the word ‘but,’ I started worrying again, “ Jennifer said. Jennifer’s worries were cut short when the doctor explained that the issue – a large space that could not be seen during the initial fusion – could be fixed with a second surgery. “The doctor told me if we didn’t fix the problem now and we waited until the first surgery healed completely we could cause more damage.” This time surgery lasted four hours and they fused C1 down to C4. “We were all freaking out because the doctor didn’t tell us a word until the surgery was completely done.” Jennifer said Fred has all his motion and he’s recovering fast. “A lot of it has to do with his age and his physical condition.” And then a lot of the healing process has to do with prayer and faith. “Fred knows this is part of God’s plan for him,” Jennifer said.
The couple has talked daily about the future. “Fred has stayed focused and he continues to be positive about everything,” Jennifer said. When the couple is not talking they have spent a lot of time watching movies.
“We watched Madagascar 3 Thursday night. I laughed the whole time,” Fred said. “It was pretty cool seeing the animals talk.” Jennifer said the couple has watched a lot of action and “romance” movies. “No sad movies while I am in the hospital,” Fred said.
In fact Fred said he has let others pick the movies. Graham, Coach Simpson’s youngest son, picked out Madagascar 3.
Fred said when he’s alone he reads the Bible and his goal has been to keep a positive mindset. In case you are wondering, Fred’s favorite verse is Proverbs 3:5-6.
“I know every day is not going to be a good day, but I want my bad days to feel like good days and my great days to feel like awesome days,” Fred said.