Virginia pitcher earns a big time scholarship after scary spinal injury

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

It's not too uncommon for a player to come back from a knee or ankle injury to resuscitate a promising athletic career. Tyler Carrico has done more than that: He came back from a broken back to become one of the Mid-Atlantic's top prep baseball players.

As chronicled by ESPN, Carrico, a Midlothian (Va.) James River High ace, suffered a dramatic injury in an eighth grade football game, then endured an entire year of persistent back pain. Finally, a series of x rays discovered that Carrico had a break in his spine.

The result was one of the more rigorous and difficult health procedures and rehabilitation plans possible. First, Carrico had to undergo a lengthy spinal fusion surgery which involves cutting all muscle away from the bone.

That first surgery could have set Carrico on the right path. Instead, it caused a staph infection, which required a second dangerous procedure. That surgery cleared out Carrico's infection, but necessitated a third procedure which — brace yourself — involved sticking a needle into the teenager's heart.

"That was the most pain I've ever been in," Carrico told ESPN. "They're pushing this needle into my heart and it was intolerable. I was miserable."

After that dangerous third procedure, Carrico was finally ready to work his way back to the baseball diamond. Rather than return to Midlothian (Va.) High, where he had been a freshman before his surgery-related absences, the then sophomore moved to James River in hopes of a new start. He got one, but had to spend a year on the school's junior varsity squad because of program depth.

Even when Carrico did land on the James River varsity team, he had to work as a reliever because of the team's backlog of starting pitchers. Then, in the 2011 regional final, Carrico was called on in the third inning because the team's starter had struggled. He pitched five sterling innings to help James River to a come-from-behind win, earned the attention of major college scouts and became an overnight impact pitcher with next-level potential.

Not long thereafter, he was offered a baseball scholarship to Virginia, his dream school and his parents' alma mater.

"It all happened that night," Carrico told ESPN. "Everything just came together -- all the hard work and literally blood, sweat and tears of the past three years. It was victory over all of my surgeries."

It was also victory with four screws and two rods implanted in his back, the after effects of a long hospital stay, and one he never forgot. According to ESPN, shortly after he returned from his surgeries, Carrico organized a fundraising dance and held a charity fun run for Noah's Children, a non-profit which offers financial assistance for families of children with terminal and life-threatening illnesses.

"You are in and out of so many hospitals, and you get some perspective from the whole experience," Tyler says. "I'm in there with a back surgery but all around me there's babies with terminal illnesses and little kids who might not ever leave the hospital.

"I thought to myself, we're going to get through it, and we need to give back."

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