BLANCHARD — Jan. 5 couldn't come soon enough for Blanchard catcher Blaine Smith.
He had it marked on his calendar for several months. After gradually getting himself back into shape, that was the day he could finally become himself again and was cleared to play baseball again.
Four months earlier, he wasn't sure if he was going to play the sport again.
Smith was never a football star for the Lions, but he loved being out there with his friends and being part of the team.
In less than two quarters of the opening game, his season was over and his future was in question.
Smith broke his neck when his C-5 and C-6 vertebrae were compressed on a tackle in the season opener against rival Bridge Creek.
He was coming off his block to make the tackle when his teammate Marshall Veal was coming from the other side and nailed the Bridge Creek runner into Smith.
"It felt like somebody was tickling me all over," Smith said. "As soon as I hit him, all I could move was my elbow. I couldn't talk at all."
But the No. 1 thought that was going through his mind was, could he ever play baseball again?
"That's what he asked me," said Debbie Smith, his mother. "He wanted to know if he would walk and play baseball. I told him he'd be fine."
And so Blaine Smith began his road back. He could only move his index finger at first, and slowly he got more and more movement back.
He began doing hand exercises, and less than three weeks later, he was back to throwing soft toss with a baseball.
Smith didn't have any trouble watching the physicality of football again, but having to endure watching that next game and not being out there was tough.
"It was horrible ... absolutely horrible," Smith said. "To not be out there was rough."
With football out of the equation, Smith turned his attention toward getting ready for baseball.
"I was terrified about him going back out there (playing catcher)," Debbie Smith said. "He plays the game so hard. It's the only way he knows how."
Blaine Smith didn't ease back into things. In the Lions' first game against Moore, an errant throw at first base as he was running out a grounder forced him to collide with Moore's first baseman.
There was a hush among the Blanchard supporters. But Smith checked himself out, saw he was OK and dusted himself off and went back to work.
After all the bad luck, Blaine received some good fortune when representatives from Rose State happened to come to one of his best games of the season, and the communication lines were officially open for colleges again.
"It was right game, right time," he said.
He said he started to feel like himself in the regional tournament and closed with a great senior season. He hit a career-high .402 with five home runs and 30 RBIs and was named the team's best defensive player for the second straight year.
It culminated with Smith signing with Rose State.
"They have a great coaching staff, and it's close to home," he said. "I didn't know if this was going to be possible, but my family, friends and coaches got me through it. I can't wait for next year."