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‘The best day of my life’: Two years removed from horrific accident, Oneida senior Morgan will take the field

Listen: Inside Scott with Isaac Morgan

CORBIN, Ky.  |  When Oneida opens the season against Williamsburg here Friday, it will be an especially special night for offensive lineman Isaac Morgan. There was a time when doctors weren’t even sure the senior would be able to walk again — let alone play football. But on Friday, almost two years after a horrific accident that left him in jeopardy of losing his leg, Morgan will be on the field when the Indians face the Yellow Jackets.

In September 2020, Morgan was a sophomore with a promising future ahead of him. Coaches talked about his future as an offensive lineman at Oneida. And, when the Indians hosted Greenback on Sept. 11, Morgan’s number was called. He saw quite a bit of action in his team’s 21-7 victory over the Cherokees, and was expected to see even more when Oneida hosted Cumberland Gap the following week.

But four nights later, on a Tuesday night, Morgan was involved in a serious accident on the Four Lane section of U.S. Hwy. 27 in Oneida. The vehicle he was driving crashed into the rear-end of another vehicle that was turning into Murphy’s Express. Morgan suffered multiple broken bones in both legs, and crushed his face when his head slammed the steering wheel.

He was rushed to University of Tennessee Medical Center, where he would undergo the first of many surgeries before the sun was up the next morning.

Morgan doesn’t remember much about the accident; he was in and out of consciousness while waiting for paramedics to arrive. He does remember unbuckling his seat belt and trying to crawl out of the passenger side of his vehicle. Then he saw his mangled leg and, as he puts it, “started freaking out.” But, for the most part, it’s all a blur until he woke up in the hospital the next morning.

“I woke up in UT and I was like, ‘Oh, God,’” he said. “I saw there was a big contraption on my leg to hold it in place where my bone had snapped out of my leg. My entire legs from the tips of my toes to my hips were wrapped up. I didn’t even know what was wrong. I just prayed for God. It was a terrible night and the only thing that could get me through it was God. I just gotta thank Him, first off.”

Morgan spent 10 days in the hospital. When the Indians hosted Cumberland Gap the next Friday night — a game they would win, 39-0 — Morgan listened to the game from his hospital bed at UTMC. His older brother, Kolby, who is now a punter at the University of Tennessee, carried Isaac’s No. 70 jersey onto the field when the Indians ran through the tunnel before the start of the game.

During that 10-day span, Morgan had eight surgeries. The first one was to repair the most serious injury, where the bone was protruding through the skin. But there would be others. He had broken both femurs, and had multiple breaks to his fibulas and tibias.

The second surgery Morgan had was to put an external fixture into place to hold his leg together. Doctors drilled through the bottom of his ankle and the top of his knee, installing two poles to stabilize his leg. A football future seemed doubtful for the budding sophomore. In fact, doctors weren’t even sure they could save his leg.

“I remember as I was going into one of my surgeries, my doctor walked in and right off the bat he said, ‘It’s a 50-50 chance that he’s going to lose his leg,’” Morgan said. “Which, I mean, there’s no other way to break it. I’d rather them be truthful with me than to be like, ‘You’re going to be fine.’” 

Morgan’s father, James Morgan, called his son’s head coach, Tony Lambert, to inform him of the news. Morgan called his mother, Mary Lay, to break the news to her.

“It was an emotional time,” he said. “No 16-year-old wants to lose his leg, especially when he has a chance of doing something, you know? My life changed since then.”

Football was life for Morgan. Of all the things he might not be able to do again, football ranked at the top of the list.

“I love playing football,” he said. “I like being out there with my teammates and stuff. All of us have grown up together and we’re all friends. And plus it was my last year together with my brother, Kolby. It would’ve been cool to have been playing with my brother. But that isn’t the way God wanted it to work out.”

The surgeries left Morgan without three inches of the tibia in one leg. Doctors had to use multiple operations to extend his leg. A jokester at heart, Morgan laughs about his “bionic leg.” And even though he couldn’t play football, he continued to support his teammates. He was back on the field before the end of that 2020 season. He spent all of his junior year going to practices and, of course, being on the sideline during games.

“I didn’t want to grow apart from my team,” he said. “I wanted to be there for them because they were there for me.”

Morgan said the support he got from his teammates was “unbelievable.” 

“I don’t think I could’ve gotten through it if it wasn’t for my team,” he said. 

And, through it all, Morgan never gave up hope of playing football again.

“He kept telling me, ‘I’ve got one more surgery and I’m getting cleared,’” his coach, Jimmy May, said. “I said, ‘Okay,’ but I didn’t think it would ever happen, to be honest with you.”

It was at his next-to-last surgery that Morgan’s doctor casually mentioned that there was a chance he might eventually be cleared to play football. During that surgery, the team of physicians took out the metal rod that had extended his leg where the bone was missing, and placed a permanent rod back in. 

Two days later, Morgan was trying to get out of bed to start walking, determined to be cleared to play football again.

“I wasn’t walking good, but I was like, ‘Okay, I gotta start somewhere,’” he said.

Finally, on July 27 — just days before his teammates reported for fall camp — Morgan’s doctor gave him the good news: He was medically cleared, and could play football.

“I about cried,” he said. “Mom teared up. She was happy for me. The first thing I did was text Coach May. And obviously he didn’t believe me. It was the best day of my life. I was so happy.”

Whenever Morgan’s number is called during Friday’s game against Williamsburg, he’ll take the field for the first time in almost two years during a varsity game. It’s been called a “miracle.” And nobody understands the significance of that more than Morgan — who never stopped believing he’d be back on the field again.

“There’s gonna be a lot of nerves going through me,” he said. “I’m gonna have to take it all in, but I think I’ve got it. I know I’ve got it.”

May said that although Morgan will be limited — he still has steel rods in his leg, after all, and will never be able to run like he once did — it is special to have his senior back on the field with his teammates.

“He’s been in there working, and I’m just so glad he’s out there to get to play, because I didn’t know if he’d ever get to play again. It didn’t look like it. It’s just a blessing to have him back out there with us. The things he went through … it’s unbelievable, and he’s back out there and he’s going to get to play some his senior year.”

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