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Bryton McKinney never really liked dogs.
“I’ve got a phobia,” said the 6-foot-1, 240-pound senior defensive lineman.
One canine encounter nearly cost the Galax senior his life, though you’ll not find a bite mark on his entire body.
The summer after a promising freshman season at Galax, McKinney was hanging out with some friends at the home of quarterback Austin Pack. A dog was running free, and to hear the story, McKinney got a little freaked out, jumped on a four-wheeler and just started riding – fast – away from the animal.
The four-wheeler tossed McKinney’s big body off when it crashed over a pine, and McKinney’s big body righted the vehicle before he jumped back on and hit the gas again.
The oak tree farther down the driveway wasn’t nearly as forgiving.
“He was just laying there,” said Pack, now a freshman at Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C. “He was hurt really bad. I called 9-1-1 and they rushed him down to Baptist. I really didn’t think he was going to make it, the way he was laying over the four-wheeler.”
The next thing McKinney knew, he woke up four days later in a hospital bed.
“I didn’t know if I was going to live or die because I didn’t know how bad it was,” he said. “If it’s my purpose to be here, then I’ll stay.”
There is a purpose to McKinney’s still being here. There is most definitely a purpose. It plays out every day in hallways and film rooms, on sandlot practice fields and varsity sidelines.
McKinney hasn’t played a down of football since the accident. Suffering seven broken bones in one’s neck will end a career in its tracks. McKinney is getting the feeling back in his left arm, but otherwise it’s of little use to him right now. But he couldn’t be more a part of the Galax football team if he had never missed a snap.
“The thing he loved most in this world was football,” said Maroon Tide coach Mark Dixon. “And to still see him smile and be a part of it all, I don’t know that at his age I would have been able to keep coming around the team the way he does. He’s a leader on the team. He’s a part of it. He’s dying to see the other kids be successful. I’m not sure that those would be the normal emotions a kid his age would be having.”
McKinney has never given up the idea of playing again, and said he’s begged Dixon for a chance. He knows he could play with one arm. But the risk is too great.
“It’s hard knowing I could be out there playing a 3 technique, stopping the run up the middle,” he said. “But I’m glad I can still be here with my guys. I’ve got a great family that loves me. My mom [Barbara Brown] only left my side twice when I was in the hospital.”
Not that anger and sadness and frustration never came forth.
“At times we’ve had to get on him, but when he sits back and thinks about how blessed he is, he knows that there’s more to it than football,” said multi-sport coach Verl Brown.
“He didn’t need football to be special,” Dixon said. “His true strength was always his personality, not his ability as a football player. That will last a lifetime.”
McKinney is everybody’s common link, the one kid in the locker room who is friends with everybody. If you knew Bryton, you fit in, because everybody else knew Bryton.
“He doesn’t see color or culture, he just gravitates to everyone,” Dixon said.
McKinney’s loss was a critical one to Galax.
“Bryton was really, really talented,” Dixon said. “He was going to be as good as anyone I’ve had, he was that talented. I still, sometimes when I’m driving home, think about what it would be like if we had Bryton this year.”
McKinney is still an integral part of Galax football. He almost never misses a practice, a lifting session (he benches 135 with just his right arm) or any other team activity.
“He was a big inspiration to us all,” said Pack of McKinney’s role in Galax’s state runner-up season a year ago. “He was there all the time. He wanted to get the point across that he couldn’t be out there, and he wanted us to play hard.”
He even gets blessed out on occasion.
“He did something the other day that just made me irate,” Dixon said. “But it was like the father part of me.”
“My brother came by, and I turned and looked, and Coach Dixon was like, ‘Eyes on me, eyes on me,’ and I said, ‘Yessir, ” McKinney said. “Coach said ‘Don’t act like it wasn’t you,’ and I said, ‘Yessir.’ ”
And nothing makes you feel like you’re part of a football team than having a coach get up in your grill.
McKinney has always been a young man of faith. The accident did nothing to change that.
“Before my accident I was praying for strength to go to college and play ball and get a degree, and I think I was so focused on football that it gave me a wake-up call that maybe I was sliding away from Him instead of putting Him first in my life,” he said. “He had me go through this because He knew I could come through it and be a witness to His greatness. I think He knew I could take it, and to show that he’s still in the healing business. He’s not going to give us anything too hard that we can’t handle.”
To see McKinney today, he appears to be handling it fine. It’s good to be above ground, he will say.
“I still want to be a police officer,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be a police officer. I just want to help make the world a better place and help people.”
He’s off to a very good start.
“I think it’s a good testimony for everybody to hear,” said Pack. “A lot of people would have lost faith. But he kept going. He still is.
“He’s just Bryton.”
Carroll Co. at Mt. Airy, N.C.
In just the second meeting ever between two schools located 21 miles apart, Carroll County will travel down the Andy Griffith Parkway to seek its first win of the season at Wallace Shelton Stadium, presumably just outside of Old Man Kelsey’s Woods.
The Cavaliers are coming off a disappointing season opener in which a 26-point second quarter propelled Bassett to a 40-12 win at Tommy Thompson Field. Bassett rolled up 351 rushing yards on the Cavaliers.
Mount Airy (1-1) is coming off an overtime win at Thomasville, N.C. in which sophomore Logan Holder stepped in for injured all-conference quarterback Austin Taylor to lead the Bears to a come-from-behind 21-14 win. Holder rallied Mount Airy from a 14-0 deficit in the final 6:42, starting with a 58-yard TD pass, then adding a 12-yard TD score in overtime for the win.
It is the home opener for Mt. Airy.
Grayson Co. at Chilhowie
Chilhowie is just a couple of games – though nine months – removed from one of the greatest comebacks in VHSL playoff history, rallying from a 31-0 halftime deficit to edge Rural Retreat 39-38.
The Warriors (0-1) led Marion 15-7 but gave up 31 unanswered points in dropping their season opener 38-15 last week. Dylan Thomas started the second half of the 2012 season at quarterback and much of the Chilhowie line returns, but the Warriors are still looking to fill the shoes of Brett Johnson, who rushed for 1,400 yards to go with 500 receiving yards.
Grayson County had its way with Alleghany in its season opener last week, taking a 35-7 halftime lead on its way to a 48-9 win. The Blue Devils amassed 440 yards of offense but allowed nearly 200 passing yards.
Galax at Floyd County
Floyd (0-1) had a solid showing last week against a Christiansburg program that was a contender for the last two state championships, trailing by a touchdown in the fourth quarter before falling 35-21.
Gus Underwood is coming off a 1,100-yard season as a passer, and Dorian Harris is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 828-yard season, which was half of what he rushed for as a sophomore.
Galax dominated this series in its early years, winning 15 of 16 from 1970 to 1987, but the Buffaloes reeled off 11 straight wins from 1996 to 2006. The series resumed last year with a 37-21 Tide win.
Galax has proven it can put points on the board. It still has to prove it can keep make some stops, giving up 25 and 27 in its benefit game and season opener. Both games saw the Galax defense allow around 400 yards, most of it through the air.