After helping his Mountain Crest teams to the 1987 3A state football title and the 1988 runner-up spot in 3A basketball, Kevin Andersen admits that his senior season has been pretty unbelievable.
Of course, you're probably already acquainted with the clincher - Andersen suffered a broken neck in last week's 3A state basketball playoffs, narrowly escaping the threats of possible paralysis or even death.That's a far cry from how the 1988-89 school year was projected for the 18-year-old from Mendon, Cache County. You see, Andersen was back again to play quarterback, one of a number of returning starters for Mountain Crest's defending championship football team. And in basketball, he was back at point guard - one of three returning starters from the MC team that went 20-4 overall, won the Region 5 crown in undefeated fashion and finished second to Timpview in the state title game.
"We thought we could have a pretty good year this year," said a subdued, brace-bearing Andersen this week from his hospital bed at Provo's Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. It was there his two fractured neck vertebrae were fused together by surgery last Sunday.
In football this year, the Mountain Crest Mustangs became the Mountain Crest Medicares, as player injuries began to mount and frustrate the implementation of a new program by first-year Coach Dan Cox, who moved from perennial contender at Bear River to take the MC reins. Andersen was one of the injured, suffering a separated shoulder before the start of Region 5 play and having to sit out more than a month.
Meanwhile, Mountain Crest went from league champion to league cellar-dweller, and from preseason 3A favorite to has-been - unable to even qualify for the 16-team state playoffs. In fact, the regular-season finale between Mountain Crest and Sky View - a rematch of the previous year's state championship game - was a contest to see which team would be able to snap its own long losing streak and win its only league game of the year. Mountain Crest did win in the derby of a different kind.
Of course, there was always basketball to compensate for any football frustrations. But while the Mustangs were racking up a second undefeated league season as Region 5 champ, Andersen suffered a severely sprained ankle toward the end of the regular season.
In the 3A playoffs, third-ranked Mountain Crest suffered an unsettling second-round setback, seemingly doing little right as Spanish Fork did almost nothing wrong in a 104-81 rout.
It was in a consolation game against Pine View the following day that Andersen suffered his most recent - and most serious - injury. Jumping up to contest an inbounds play at the end of the third quarter, he came down awkwardly - apparently favoring his still-sore ankle - and was undercut by another player jockeying for position. Bouncing off his back, Andersen had his chin to his chest when several other players toppled on top of him.
His vertebrae shifted some 7 millimeters to the side, with his spinal cord bending but not being severed by the extreme movement. "The doctors are saying it's a miracle he's still alive and not paralyzed," said Mustang Coach John Nielsen.
In the week-plus stay at the medical center (he returned home Friday), Andersen expressed no bitterness or anger over his senior-season trials. "It puts a pretty new perspective on life," he said in a soft-spoken voice. "It makes you realize that sports is not the most important thing, that maybe education and one's religion are."
Doctors are suggesting a three-month period of rehabilitation for Andersen, with contact sports out for a while. Andersen plans an even longer rehab, setting his sights on an LDS mission when he turns 19 in September, giving his neck two-plus years of needed rest.
In the meantime, he has been the focal point of several media reports on the accident, as well as the center of concern from teammates, opponents and other athletes. In addition to a visit from BYU assistant coach Carl Ingersoll and players Andy Toolson and Mark Heslop, a recuperating Andersen has also received calls from players and coaches from Timpview, Spanish Fork, Pine View and other prep programs. "I've had visits and gotten cards from a lot of enemies on the court who have turned out to be pretty good people in life."
Andersen would rather have been in a different sort of limelight, sharing athletic successes with football and basketball teammates rather than get-well wishes and attentions. "I never thought I'd end up being hurt in both football and basketball," he said. "It just wasn't what a senior year is supposed to be."