BY DARREN REESE
Four years ago, Skylar West wasn't sure if his football playing career would continue past high school.
West earned All-Region honors while leading Oneida to the semifinals of the Class A state playoffs during his senior year, but just two months after the season finished, his life was literally turned upside down.
On December 28, 2008, West and his brother, Jordan, were driving home to Scott County after a late-night dinner in Knoxville.
Less than 10 miles from their house, West fell asleep at the wheel of his brother's Ford F250 pick-up truck and drove 55 miles per hour off a 130-foot drop.
Miraculously, the duo survived the truck rolling an estimated 10 times down the embankment and then were able to find their way out of the wooded area, back up to the road, and walk over a mile to the nearest gas station while bleeding profusely.
Fast forward to present day and West is a senior All-American long snapper for the Tusculum football team. He will take the field for his final home opener this Saturday when the Pioneers host North Greenville in a 6 p.m.contest.
"It's going to be bittersweet," West said. "It's kind of like the last first one, ya know? I really enjoy my coaches and teammates. I wouldn't go anywhere else for the life of me."
West's story is one of second chances. Actually, by his count, he is on his third chance. He was involved in another horrific car accident this past February when he was a passenger in a car that spun out of control on wet pavement and slammed into a light pole.
Two days later, on Super Bowl Sunday, he dedicated his life to Christ and got saved.
"I remember standing outside that car (after the second wreck)," West said. "It was like the Lord told me, 'The next one you are not walking away from'."
It was the wreck four years ago, though, that first showed West that he needed to get his life "straight", as he puts it.
Up until then, he was a typical care-free teenager. "I did whatever I wanted," he said.
But that fateful December evening, West was at a total loss of control. He remembers waking up just as the truck went flying off the side of the road. He remembers rolling for what seemed like an eternity. He remembers crashing into a rock that was almost the size of the vehicle.
When the car stopped its free fall, West's head was wedged between the center console and the gear shift, lying in a pool of his own blood. The deep laceration on the back of his head would require twenty-something staples.
When he regained awareness, he tried to wake up Jordan. West shook his brother several times and got no response.
"I came back to my side (of the truck) and started to break down a little bit because I thought I had killed my brother," said West, who is three years younger than Jordan.
Suddenly, Jordan mumbled a few words. "That was the best feeling in the world," West said.
Still, Jordan was in no condition for the hike back up to the road. Neither was West, but he managed to put his arm around his brother and lead the two to help.
They climbed back up the steep embankment and to the nearest gas station to use the phone. That's where West eventually passed out due to his significant loss of blood.
In addition to the head injury, West's jaw was broken, as were some of the bones in his hand. He had to have a metal plate inserted in his jaw, and his mouth was wired shut for nearly a month. He lost over 20 pounds in the process.
The only significant injury Jordan suffered was to his elbow, but he doesn't remember anything from the accident.
In the months that passed, West had no other physical ailments other than the lost weight. He does, however, still endure nightmares on a regular basis.
"To this day, (but it's not) really reliving (the accident)," he explained. "It's something like a black figure. Like if I fell asleep in here right now, I could see the room like it is now, but there would be like a black figure (right in front of my face) just choking me."
"When I wake up, I feel like there are hands on my throat and I can't breath. It's just something I try to deal with."
West was a four-year varsity letterman at Oneida and caught 15 touchdown passes as a receiver over his last two high school seasons.
He garnered some interest from colleges, but the majority of the recruiters backed off after the accident.
His high school coach, Tony Lambert, insisted that West still had what it took to contribute at the next level, though. The coach made some calls and eventually got West lined up with Tusculum, which was in the market for a long snapper.
But even up until the night before it was time for him to move to the Greeneville campus, West had his reservations.
"I wasn't going to come," West admitted. "I was just going to go into the Marines and be done with it."
But the stepfather of a former high school teammate who was also going to Tusculum brought a U-Haul truck and parked it in his front yard.
"He said, 'Load it up if you want to, I'll be back for it in the morning'," West remembered.
West's grandparents, Melvin and Carolyn Newport, encouraged him to at least give it a try. West eventually realized that it was some of the best advice he ever received.
"I was like, 'Hey, I really like it up here'," West said.
The relationship has been equally beneficial for the Tusculum football program, as well.
West has earned All-South Atlantic Conference honors all three of his seasons in a Pioneer uniform thus far. He graded out at 98.1-percent on 104 special teams snaps last year and earned All-American honors.
"Before Skylar came here, we had heard he was pretty good from (his high school coach) Tony Lambert," Tusculum head coach Frankie DeBusk said. "But we didn't realize he was quite as good as he has ended up being. He is a weapon for us."
Long snapping is something West just started doing for fun when he was a sophomore in high school. But eventually he decided to take the art more seriously.
"I snap more than 100 balls a day," West said proudly. "(Long snapping) is all about muscle memory, getting it down to where you can do it in your sleep."
"I've accepted my role and I love what I do."
DeBusk didn't know West before the accident, but just in the past four years, the coach has witnessed him mature in all aspects of life.
"Skylar is a guy who was dealt some bad cards early," DeBusk said. "He lost a very close loved one in the past few years in his grandfather, as well, so he has endured some life-changing experiences."
"He's a changed person. I've seen him grow spiritually, mentally, physically. It's been a joy. He is going to do bigger and greater things."
West, a sports science major, still harbors thoughts of possibly joining the Marines once he finishes college. His grandfather was in the 101st Airborne and being in the armed services is something West has always seriously considered. His nickname is "The Marine".
West also hopes to get a try-out with an NFL team. "I want to take (football) as far as I can go," he said. "What's the worst they can tell you?"
But no matter where he ends up, he knows he is a changed person because of the obstacles he has had to overcome to get there. And he wants to continue making the most of his second chance.