Confirmation of the worst came from teammates almost immediately after Hedgepeth was helped to the sideline. They gasped when the OSU medical staff took off his shoe. Then they held him down, so he wouldn't see how bad the injury looked.
“I was sitting there and just thinking about how I'd have to crutch again and be in a cast,” Hedgepeth said.
Within two days, Hedgepeth was in and out of surgery. He then went home for about a week, so his mother, Lesia, could take care of him.
About two months in a cast up to his knee followed, starting with one that was slanted and gradually moving to one that kept the foot in a neutral position. Then he had crutches and a boot for a week. Then he could walk in that boot.
And just recently, Hedgepeth has started walking short distances in a normal shoe. He's also began doing light rehab exercises to strengthen his muscles, such as picking up marbles with his toes and using his ankle to trace his ABCs in the air.
Around the start of the new year, he's scheduled begin more intense rehab.
“The main thing is just mentally, just trying to get back to a regular lifestyle,” Hedgepeth said. “I have my up days and my down days, obviously. My family definitely helped me get through everything. But it's not as bad as I thought it would be at all.”
Still, Hedgepeth has now missed the vast majority of two seasons. He admitted watching the Cowboys' historical run to the Big 12 title and a victory in the Fiesta Bowl last season was especially hard. But more than games, he misses being on the field with his teammates during practice.
Hedgepeth has, however, still attended every team and position meeting this season and is a fixture on the sideline during home games. And he's kept his spirits high throughout the entire process.
“I never saw him get discouraged or depressed or anything about it when I was around him,” teammate Brodrick Brown said. “He always had a smile on his face. He just kept it moving. That's one thing he really does.”
Hedgepeth has asked doctors this basic question — why does this injury keep happening? But he doesn't ask himself this one — what if he had waited a bit longer to return to the field after his second torn Achilles?
“That's not one of those things I really think about it,” he said. “I definitely don't regret coming back that soon. What happened, happened.”
Hedgepeth has not officially decided if he will try to make another comeback.
OSU has had its share of injury success stories, Kye Staley's return from a shredded knee the most recent and most notable. But it will be a difficult task, and a risk.
Regardless, Hedgepeth will be a part of the Cowboys' Heart of Dallas Bowl festivities and is always welcome around the football facilities.
Academically, Hedgepeth has recently added a marketing minor and is on track to graduate — with honors, of course — next year.
Deyong believes Hedgepeth will be “sought after” for multiple job opportunities, if she can't convince him to come back for graduate school. Hedgepeth ultimately sees himself in a management position, perhaps eventually climbing to the CEO level.
Three Achilles injuries may have taken Hedgepeth's ability to play football. But they didn't take away his ability to thrive at OSU.
“Football's given me so many amazing opportunities,” he said. “I'm going to have the chance to come out of school with no debt, because I have a scholarship and I'm getting my school paid for. I'm definitely taking advantage of my classes.
“There are so many things to look forward to. I'm definitely going to be all right, so I definitely don't want (OSU fans) to feel sorry for me. I'm going to be OK.”