The biggest high-school football game of the season will kick off this Friday night in a matchup of two powerhouse programs.

Elder and Colerain will play for a regional championship. Whoever wins gets to represent Cincinnati in the state playoffs.

But one of the game’s best players, Jaylen Thomas, won’t be on the field.

Thomas, a senior running back for the Colerain Cardinals, scored the first touchdown of last week’s big win against Fairfield on a 45-yard run. Hours later, he woke up in a hospital bed with lower-body injuries so severe that he won’t be able to play the rest of the season.

“He was leaving a friend’s house after the game,” fellow senior Cardinal running back Deshawn Pace told FOX19 NOW. “And he was leaving to go home, and he actually fell asleep right at the wheel. And he woke up, and he was in the hospital.”

Thomas had surgery on Monday.

“I was on my way to the hospital, and I didn’t really want to walk in there,” Pace recalled. “I was crying in the car for a little bit.”

Thomas is expected to make a full recovery, but that’ll take time.

Meanwhile, on the field, there isn’t time to waste for the Cardinals as they prepare to take on Elder.

And when they do, they’ll be playing for Thomas.

“It just made the bond even stronger,” junior quarterback Freddie Johnson said. “So, we’re just going to come together Friday night.”

Elder football has also shown its support for Thomas following the incident via Twitter.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with (Thomas) and his doctors,” the tweet read. “Some things are bigger than sports, and your health and recovery are much more important than a football game. May God bless you, your family, and your doctors, Jaylen.”


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