LUMBERTON — When Scotland High School visited Pembroke last year, the Purnell Swett football team got a taste of Jaylend Ratliffe.
Before halftime, the Division I quarterback prospect had two rushing touchdowns, both for more than 40 yards, and connected with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Tyson, en route to a 48-0 halftime lead.
“He was the key that started the ignition,” Purnell Swett coach Mark Heil said Wednesday. “Everything stemmed off of him. He’s got some great company around him but he’s a great talent.”
It’s talent that could be sidelined this season following an ATV accident on Tuesday afternoon.
Ratliffe is in serious condition, sources told the Laurinburg Exchange on Wednesday, but has been taken off a ventilator and is talking and responsive.
Ratliffe, who reportedly suffered brain injuries when the ATV on which he was riding flipped, was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte on Tuesday night. Sources close to the family said Ratliffe was still in a lot of pain Wednesday, as doctors stepped down his medication to better assess any damage to his brain.
An MRI scan performed on Ratliffe Wednesday morning did not show any obvious spinal damage. According to a source, doctors hoped to remove Ratliffe’s neck brace and have him sitting up in bed soon.
Coaches from Robeson County’s 4A schools offered prayers and support for the injured senior on Wednesday.
“You never want to hear about anybody else’s players getting hurt,” first-year Lumberton coach Mike Setzer said. “I pray that he has a fast and safe recovery and we’ll keep his family in our prayers.”
Ratliffe, who committed to Georgia Tech last spring, was set to enter his senior season at the school amid high expectations. Scotland has won three consecutive Southeastern conference championships. With Ratliffe at the helm they are the favorites to win another title. Scotland coach Richard Bailey canceled Wednesday’s BCS Championship team event and Thursday’s practice, but still plans to have the first official practice of the year on Friday.
Setzer didn’t talk about Ratliffe’s injury with his team on Wednesday, but planned on discussing it later in the week. During workouts on Wednesday, the Rams had a prayer for Ratliffe.
“It’s just a terrible thing to happen,” Heil said. “You (coach) long enough and things like this happen. You’ve just got to hope God takes care of him.”
Heil only has dealt with Ratliffe on limited occasions, but heard from others that he was a “first-class gentleman.”
“My stomach turns for the kid,” Heil said. “He’s a great great quarterback but he’s an extremely fine young man too.”
Both coaches declined to discuss how the accident could affect the Southeastern Conference, both citing the importance of Ratliffe’s general health.
Ratliffe’s grandmother Annie McIntyre said Wednesday morning that the family has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support shown by the community, from Scotland County teachers and students who have driven to the Charlotte hospital to see Ratliffe, to his fellow teammates, some of whom spent Tuesday night in Charlotte along with coach Richard Bailey.
“… When something happens to one of our brothers or our sisters or our children, this is when we look to Christ and ask him for help but we also ask everyone to keep him in our prayers,” McIntyre said. “We can only wait for the Lord to bring him out of this if it is his will, and I believe that the Lord is going to bring him out … even if he never throws another football, if he can just have his body, with Christ in his soul and can still love people and communicate with them like he does.”
Setzer said that it’s hard to limit the types of activities that players do in the offseason.
“Kids will be kids and sometimes accidents happen,” he said. “We’ve had that happen before.
“The biggest thing you can do is tell kids to be safe.”
Heil called Ratliffe’s situation a “freak accident” but said he expected many of his players would continue riding ATVs. He said he just tries to stress the importance of safety on, and off, roads.
“I talk about our kids almost every day about the way they drive, that they’re not indestructible,” he said. “I try to tell my kids just to be cautious in automobiles and while driving.”