By Pat Coleman,
Photo by Pat Coleman, D3football.com
ABILENE, Texas – Four weeks ago, Hardin-Simmons slotback
Shay Ratliff was fighting for his life. The junior, who had just
transferred from Abilene Christian when the season started, had
headaches after a game at UW-Stout, later learning he'd suffered a
brain hemorrhage. Although Ratliff is on the road to recovery,
playing football again is a risk and a longshot.
Ratliff appears steady enough on his feet. He speaks deliberately; you can almost see him forming sentences piece by piece in his mind. But he's more than coherent enough to hold his own, as he stands in street clothes on the Cowboys' sideline.
"It"s tough to watch when you want to contribute," said Ratliff, who had eight catches for 81 yards in his one game. "I can"t do much but yell – that"s why I"m so hoarse."
Ratliff had all eight of those catches in the season opener at UW-Stout, one less catch than he had all of last season at ACU.
His teammates wear Ratliff's number, 3, on the back of their helmets. "That really means a lot to me," Ratliff said. "It's a great thing that they can make you feel like such a part of the family in such a short time. I'm just as much of a Cowboy as they make me feel."
Ratliff's injury wasn't discovered until a couple of days after the game, when what seemed like getting his bell rung turned more serious. "I lost my (ability to speak) for about a week and a half," he said. "With my equilibrium, I"m still not able to do much.
"It's humbling for sure. I'm just trying to get better."
Ratliff, who studies scripture regularly, finds his reading comprehension has yet to return, although he can quote his favorite passage from Jeremiah from memory. His struggles have forced him to drop out of school for the time being, but he takes it all in stride. "I couldn't have asked for the Lord to bless me any better way."
"There's a chemistry here I can't describe, and I think nobody could. It's not all about winning football games, it's about relationships. It's about fighting for your brother next to you."
Ratliff is in the beginning stages of a four-month rehab, where he not only has to regain his balance, but learn to comprehend what he reads. It's a long road to get anywhere, let alone off the sidelines.
"I dream of playing again, but I'm thankful of being alive."