By JOSH WEIR
Repository sports writer
Matt Christopher is a man with muscles upon muscles. A 6-foot-1, 230-pound hitting machine during his playing days, which ended in 1995, he still looks unbreakable.
However the former standout linebacker suffered seven concussions during his career at Lake High School and Ohio State. With each concussion, Christopher required less of a hit and more recovery time. His headaches worsened.
“Boxers are known for having glass jaws,” said Christopher, now a 39-year-old married father with two boys. “I guess I had a glass head.”
Two decades later and just miles down the road, 6-foot, 178-pound Greg Soehnlen doesn’t strike the imposing figure of Christopher. But Soehnlen, who graduated from Hoover High School in May, struggled with concussions just the same.
After suffering his first concussion during his junior year of football, his second concussion happened early during his senior season. It caused the tight end-defensive end to miss four games and more than a week of school. He and his parents scanned the game tape to find the big hit that caused it. They could not.
Soehnlen certainly doesn’t remember it. He recalls looking at the scoreboard late in the second quarter. His next memory is waking up in the hospital with a headache.
The doctors did not have to tell him what happened for him to realize he suffered another concussion.
“I remember how it felt,” said Soehnlen of the brutal headaches.
Soehnlen returned later in the season to help Hoover clinch a playoff spot. After football finished, he looked forward to lacrosse in the spring.
In an early-season scrimmage, he took a stick to the back of the head from an opponent. This third concussion ended his high school athletic career and any hope of playing contact sports in college. The risk of another concussion was too great.
Now fully healed and headed to the University of Akron to study engineering, Soehnlen said, “I do have that constant fear of, ‘If I get hit again, what’s going to happen to me? Am I going to get lucky again, suffer for three months and be fine? Or is something long-term going to happen?’ ”
Soehnlen is fortunate that he played when he did.
He was managed properly at Hoover. He underwent the baseline cognitive testing used to assess concussions. He graduated through the recommended return-to-play procedure.
His brain was afforded the proper mental and physical rest to recover.
Christopher might be fortunate that he doesn’t have lingering effects.
There was no baseline testing and return-to-play procedures when he suited up. His treatment?
“I’d get a shot of Demerol and I’d be good to go again,” said Christopher. He returned two days after his first concussion so he could play in a scrimmage against Steubenville his junior year.
As his career continued, the effectiveness of the painkillers waned. Christopher struggled throughout his time at Ohio State to stay on the field. His final concussion came on a simple play in practice in which he and teammate Rickey Dudley butted helmets. The contact was minimal, but it sent Christopher to his knees.
Christopher knew he was done with the game he loved so much, the game he hoped to play at the professional level some day.
“Maybe I’m lucky I got out when I did,” he said. “When you love the game and want to continue to play, you’re going to do what you have to do. But then again, I have my health and I’m good right now.”
Reach Josh at 330-580-8426 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @jweirREP