Layton When Layton finally meets Alta in Friday's 5A championship game, Craig Ezzell will be there on the sidelines with the Lancers.
Ezzell is listed on the Lancer roster at quarterback and defensive back, but he likely won't play a single down against the Hawks. Even so, getting playing time is not the point.
For Ezzell, just being back among his teammates is a satisfying enough milestone in his ongoing recovery from a near fatal motorcycle accident.
And the Lancers are equally happy he can take part in such a successful season.
"It's awesome," said senior running back James Adams, one of Ezzell's closest friends. "From where he was, he's a total trooper."
When Ezzell suffered his accident two summers ago, he ended up spending most of the next two months in a coma. He gradually came out of it in stages, but nothing like he had been before the accident.
Ezzell had to learn basic functions all over again. Among other things, his parents taught him how to eat, walk and speak.
It felt frustrating to go from trying to earn a spot on the football team to working to reclaim control over his body.
"It gets me down sometimes," Ezzell said. "Some stuff came so easy before and I have to work on it so hard now."
Still, things gradually improved for him. Over time, he went from walking a few steps at best to walking a mile on a treadmill with assistance. It was nothing short of a miracle to make such progress considering everyone from his doctors to his parents feared he could never regain enough motor skills to function on his own.
Rejoining his teammates remained a paramount goal even if he couldn't return to playing form. Many Layton players spent countless hours at his side during the 107 days he stayed in the hospital, encouraging Ezzell and aiding in his recovery process.
Being their teammate again became a necessary step to getting back his life. When he finally saw them outside the hospital for the first time, Ezzell was greeted with thunderous applause.
The warm response made him instantly feel at home.
"They all just started clapping and chanting my nickname," Ezzell said.
For teammates and coaches alike, it has meant so much to see him make progress in his recovery. And having their support has meant a great deal to Ezzell in return.
"I think it's been instrumental," Layton coach Jim Batchelor said. "It's been huge for him because it's been his one sole goal to get back."
Recovering his football skills is still a work in progress. These days, Ezzell can throw a ball only half the distance he once did. But his doctors incorporated football into his physical therapy, by his request, because it helps him work through obstacles much easier.
"I feel a lot more normal being in that weight room and lifting with the guys," said Ezzell, who always has teammates or coaches watching over him to make sure he doesn't get injured.
Ezzell finally dressed for a game at last week's semifinal victory over American Fork. He was thrilled for the chance to go to Rice-Eccles Stadium. As a lifelong University of Utah fan, it fulfilled a childhood dream just to be on the turf.
"To be able to walk on the U of U field is just an excellent feeling," Ezzell said.A feeling he'll get to enjoy again this week.