Southern Durham High defensive tackle Doug Satterfield has few memories of the play that ended his football career.
He moved quickly as the ball was snapped and slammed into the Hillside center. The contact was helmet-to-helmet and Satterfield was dazed and fell backward. The last thing he remembers before everything went black is Brandon Thompson, Hillside’s 310-pound offensive lineman, falling on him.
Satterfield, the 195-pound Southern Durham captain, had a concussion and had been knocked unconscious. Not all concussions result in the loss of consciousness, but this one did. The concussion was his third within about a year. He expects it will it be the last one he ever gets playing football.
As he lay on the Durham County Stadium field, Rochelle Satterfield, Doug’s mother, looked down at her unconscious son and told Southern Durham coach Adrian Jones, no more. Her son was through with football.
Jones agreed. So would Satterfield’s doctors. The decision had been made. He just didn’t know it yet.
Eventually, he agreed, too.
“It is not the decision that I want to make, but it is the decision that I have to make,” Doug Satterfield said. “I’ve got to look after my health and think about the life that I want to live and the family I want to have. There really isn’t a decision.”
Satterfield said the coaching staff helped make the decision final.
“They told me that they wouldn’t let me play,” he said. “They are all right. I couldn’t play patty cake football and be worried about a brain injury all the time. It is time to move to something else.”
Satterfield suffered his first concussion a year ago in a football game against Northern Durham. He is unsure if he got the second when weights fell on his head in the weight room or if he got the injury when he fell on his head when he was playing handball.
He knows he has had three, including the most dramatic one against Hillside.
A concussion is a disruption of normal chemical reactions in the brain. Concussions are caused when the brain is jarred, moving within the skull. Repeated concussions can be a factor in people developing chronic symptoms similar to degenerative brain disorders.
Dr. Robert Cantu, one of the nation’s leading experts on concussions, writes in “Concussions and Our Kids” that there is no magic number of concussions that would require an athlete to give up collisions sports, but that multiple concussions are a reason for concern. Multiple concussions can lower the brain’s resistence to the next concussion.
Repeated concussions are suspected of being a factor of later cognitive problems. Concussions also can be fatal.
The decision to quit playing doesn’t mean that Satterfield is quitting the team.
“I was elected captain. It was something I earned because I am a leader on my team,” he said. “I can’t play, but I can still be with them.
“What made the decision even harder is that this is a special team. I fully expect that we will be playing for the state championship. We can win it all. But I know I can’t be out there playing anymore.”
Jones said he wants Satterfield to be around the team. Jones said he looks forward to seeing Satterfield’s smile every day.
“Doug is a great young man and leader and I have watched him grow into a great young man,” Jones said. “He has been our leader vocally and by example. He will still be on the sidelines as a player-coach, doing what he does best motivate in getting everything out of our guys.”
Satterfield’s long-range prognosis is good. He enlisted in the Marine Corps last week and had a medical exam. He will report for boot training on July 7.
He is proud to be joining the Marines. But he also is proud of what he accomplished playing football.
His first memory after regaining consciousness on the field is looking into the stands and seeing spectators weeping.
“Here I am 17 years old and a high school football player and thousands of people are crying for me,” he said. “My mother told me that they were not crying because I was hurt, but because many of them knew me and I had touched their lives.
“Seventeen years old and thousands of people care for you. That is having an impact. Life is not all about football. Life is about making an impact on people. I can still do that.”