WALLINGFORD — Tre Childers wasn’t going to pull on the shoulder pads and maroon Titans helmet for his senior year at Sheehan High. He had survived a horrific car crash. He was thriving again at school, on the lacrosse field, in his social life.
“I wasn’t originally going to play, because obviously the head,” Childers said. “But I had a conversation with my doctor and he asked me if I was going to play. I was like, ‘I don’t think I’m going to.’ He’s like, ‘Why?’ He told me I’m cleared. I’m good.”
It was two weeks before the football season that Childers, in consultation with his dad, finally decided, yeah, he was good. Childers wasn’t going to punt on the game. He was going to punt in the game and back up at quarterback.
“It was really hype,” Jordan Davis said. “It was a great feeling.”
This is a reunion story, the best kind of reunion story, one that leads into Sheehan’s big game against No. 10 Cheshire on Friday. It is a story that starts with the shock of Wallingford police responding to a mid-afternoon accident on Highland Avenue in March 2018, a mile from Sheehan’s campus. A story that starts with a 2009 Toyota Scion buried into a tree like a squashed soda can, and Sheehan coach John Ferrazzi calling it a miracle that Davis and Childers — the kid Davis has called his best friend in life — survived.
Davis suffered a badly broken right femur. Childers’ injuries were worse. A traumatic brain injury left him with some temporary paralysis on his left side and life-threatening bleeding of the brain. The recovery would be long and painful, months of therapy for both.
“It was hard,” Childers said. “The hardest part, honestly, not being with my friends, out of school.”
“Nothing was guaranteed,” Davis said. “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to run the same again. Tre didn’t know if he was going be able to play again.
“To be back together now is amazing.”
As a football story, Davis’ comeback is an inspiring one. As a sophomore, he had amassed 900 rushing and 1,295 all-purpose yards in scoring 15 touchdowns for the Titans. Used as a slot receiver as a junior after the accident, those numbers understandably dipped to 380 receiving and 479 all-purpose yards.
“Jordan didn’t get cleared to play until August last year,” Ferrazzi said. “We didn’t have any real intentions of activating him right away.”
Going into Week 1, however, the coaches ranked Davis in the two-deep and with the permission of his mom Tammy they activated him.
“There was a progression,” Ferrazzi said. “He had a hard time dealing with that early in the season. He knew he wasn’t able to do the things he normally was used to do doing.”
Part of his problem was physical, Davis said. The rest of it was mental.
“The leg was really weak so I couldn’t really cut,” he said. “And, mentally, I was scared to go on that leg, to do anything full like I did my sophomore year.”
The coaches tried to put him in situations where he didn’t have to rely on what he was missing. Elevating to get a ball or making a cut, Ferrazzi saw spurts of that explosiveness returning toward the end of the year.
Davis continued to train hard in the off-season. He drilled. And drilled. This past summer during camps he noticed he was faster than other players. It was rejuvenating.
“I finally was burning kids again,” Davis said. “Finally making those cuts, not favoring one leg.”
“Once we got into preseason we were like alright, he was just about there,” Ferrazzi said. “Now, here we are going into Week 8.”
Yes, here we are with the Titans, 6-1, and Davis’ numbers rising fast. He already has 553 yards rushing, 448 receiving, 1,260 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns. Davis smiles when I tell him I like to call him by his nickname “Lightning.”
“Lightning,” he said, “is back.”
“I don’t even think (the injury) is in his mind anymore,” Ferrazzi said. “And that’s mind-boggling where he was to where he is now.”
Yet it is as a reunion story, one that brings Davis and Childers together on the football field, where this is the best story. For Davis was driving the Toyota Scion that March day in 2018 when both came closer to dying than any high school sophomores ever should. The police said Davis was speeding and driving recklessly. He wasn’t old enough to legally have Childers riding alone in the car with him.
Those are difficult things to talk about, really difficult for a young guy to address publicly. Yet that’s what Davis, a good young man who had done something wrong, did last year when I met with him for a column. He said he had learned not to be stupid, learned how bad things can happen in a flash to anyone. He stood up and took ownership of something his best friend does not remember and he will never forget.
“I only remember leaving the school,” Childers said.
“I remember it right up to me swerving, trying to keep control of the car,” Davis said. “I don’t remember hitting the tree. For a while it was bothering me. It was hard to sleep. Constantly thinking about that, hurting him. It was very depressing.
“It was a terrible thing and for the outcome of only me being able to play that season hurt in a different way that I can’t explain. Seeing him on the sideline, it was a blessing, but he wasn’t on the field with me.”
Still, Childers continued to come out last year. You have to cheer your team on, he said. And so he did. He wanted to remain connected. From financial drives to help with medical expenses to folks stopping by the boys’ homes with food, the Sheehan and Wallingford communities were remarkable in their support. Even now, the two say in thankful unison, “amazing.”
Childers trained last winter with the football team. Leading into the summer, however, he told Ferrazzi he had decided not to play.
“We told him whatever decision you make, we’re going to fully support it,” Ferrazzi said. “You’ll always have a home here. I think when he saw everybody competing in preseason he got that itch again. He talked about wanting to punt. He had to earn his way back doing that. Now he feels he has a role, but he’s back side-by-side with all his friends.”
It was late in the 69-14 victory over Branford on Oct. 6 when Childers broke off a 54-yard quarterback run for a touchdown. There was, Ferrazzi said, a great burst of emotion on the sideline and from the home crowd.
“It felt great,” Childers said. “Everyone was behind me, the whole team, parents, the whole school, it was cool, real cool. All the hours of therapy, coming out here and practicing, it was a big step.”
There is a photo and it can be found online of the Toyota Scion buried into the tree. I ask the players and their coach what they think when they look at it.
“Insane we both made it out of that,” Davis said.
“A blessing,” Childers said.
“How precious life is,” Ferrazzi said. “Seeing that to where they’ve come and how they’ve grown from that is really special. It sends a message to everyone that you never know when you’ll get a second chance …”
Davis has always been quick to call Childers his best friend and that part doesn’t change. Yet it clearly is only part of this reunion story.
“We were always best friends,” Lightning Davis said. “This made us more brothers. We have that bond now that is inseparable.”
“Yeah,” Tre Childers said.