Frightening memories for Esks coach

GERRY MODDEJONGE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:17 AM ET

Commonwealth Stadium might as well have been a time machine for Kavis Reed on Saturday.

As the Edmonton Eskimos head coach stood helplessly on the sidelines as an ambulance was called to the field, he was instantly transported back to his playing days.

Or, more accurately, the end of his playing days.

An all-star defensive back, Reed played with the Eskimos throughout his entire five-year CFL career -- one that was shortened both suddenly and permanently by a neck injury suffered on his homefield.

It's a memory he will carry his whole life, and the first thing he said to the Sun on his way to his inaugural press conference announcing the Eskimos new head coach for the 2011 season.

"I was 27, at the prime of my playing career, laying on the field at Commonwealth Stadium with a neck injury," Reed said back in December. "I was just married and I remember laying there thinking how unfair this was going to be to my wife, knowing that she was going to have to look after me.

"I knew when I walked off the field that was going to be my last game."

It was the same sick feeling he couldn't shake Saturday when he saw a stretcher being brought out for his non-import backup safety, Delroy Clarke.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, the 29-year-old didn't begin playing football until coming to Canada in 1998.

Instead, he grew up playing the other 'football' -- a sport he continued after moving here and one that earned him a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati.

But a knee injury prevented him from pursuing his soccer dream, instead opening the door to a pro football career that saw him graduate with the Ottawa Gee Gees and spend the past three seasons with the Toronto Argonauts.

On Saturday, it was his football future that came into question after being on the receiving end of a helmet-on-helmet hit while on punt coverage in the third quarter against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Breathless minutes passed as trainers and emergency-response personnel huddled over Clarke's motionless form.

All 30,000 people in the stands went silent.

Along with one person on the sidelines.

"Yeah, I did have a flashback, no question about it," said Reed, who was as solemn at the thought in that instant as he was excited for his team's win that night. "At this stadium, that happened to me. When I saw that stretcher come out, I was taken back to a bad place.

"When you see all the neurological tests that were being ran, it gave me flashbacks to the same tests that were being ran on me and you just pray that he is going to be OK.

"We know this is a brutal game. When you see a guy down and they're worried about movement and things like that, it really frightens you. Being down on that field in that position, you know what your mindset is as that player down there."

It took some time, but Clarke was helped up before making it to the sideline under his own steam.

"Tremendous relief. Exceptional relief," Reed said. "I know Delroy is a very tough kid and for him to be down on the field for that long, I knew something had to be majorly wrong.

"But, fortunately I saw him get up. He walked around. He seems to be OK. I'm very happy that he's up."

gerry.moddejonge@sunmedia.ca twitter.com/SunModdejonge


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