Nevada Union’s Garrett Graves overcomes adversity, makes triumphant return for senior season
Under the bright lights of Hooper Stadium and in front of a roaring crowd, Garrett Graves made his much-anticipated varsity debut on his home turf.
The senior defensive back raced onto the football field carrying a giant Nevada Union High School flag as he led his brothers in blue and gold into their home opener against Placer last week.
“That was my first ever varsity home game,” said Graves. “That was really fun. Leading the team out onto the field and seeing the crowd out there was different than any JV or freshmen game for sure. It was an honor.”
It was a defining moment for Graves. It was also a moment that almost never happened.
‘Will I ever be right?’
For Graves, football has been a large part of his life since he was a young boy. He started playing Junior Miners football at the age of 7 and was a starter on the freshmen and junior varsity teams, but just as summer workouts were nearing ahead of his junior season, Graves suffered a major setback.
“I was at home one day and started feeling funny, things started going wrong,” Graves recalled. “I could feel something grabbing my leg. I looked down and it was my hand and I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t take it off. I was like fighting my own hand — it was really weird.”
Graves also had a tough time walking and was slurring his words. He was having a stroke.
“I was so scared and freaked out at the moment,” Graves said.
He was rushed to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, then moved to UC Davis, where he spent the next five days in the hospital. What followed after that was months of uncertainty and frustration. After countless tests, there was still no answer to as why a healthy teenager would suddenly have a stroke.
“It was emotional,” Graves said. “I was thinking, will I ever be right? Will I ever play football again? Will I be able to go back to school?”
The answer would be yes to all, but it would take a while to get there.
Path to recovery
Graves, who is also a wrestler and competes on the track team, was sidelined from all sports as well as simple pleasures like fishing as doctors tried to figure out what could have caused his stroke.
As Graves’ junior year of football began to slip by, he held out hope that he would be able to play at some point.
“Weeks just kept passing by and it sucked,” he said. “I was still always there because I wanted to be there for my boys, my brothers, but deep down it sucked. But you do it for the team, not for you.”
Graves remained a member of the team, doing what he could to assist on the sidelines. He also took up coaching, helping out at the Junior Miners level, where his father Wes coaches and his younger brother Maddox plays.
Graves never got back on the field in his junior year, and he started to wonder if he ever would again.
It wasn’t until after his junior season of football that doctors finally discovered what caused the stroke. Graves had what is known as arteriovenous malformation of the lung, which is an abnormal connection between arteries and veins, bypassing the capillary system. The issue was that his lungs were not filtering out blood clots and one had made its way to his brain and caused the stroke. He later found out that several other clots had also made their way to his heart.
Armed with the knowledge of what was now afflicting him, Graves started on his path to recovery. He had surgery in April and was cleared to play football shortly after, but with a series of stipulations. Graves’ mother or father would need to attend all practices and games and are solely responsible for any medical response that may come if an issue were to arise. They have taken on that responsibility, attending morning and afternoon practices with the necessary medical tools needed to respond if Graves were to have an issue come up. Allowing their son to play football again after all he had been through was not an easy one.
‘A risk we were willing to take’
“Most parents would say ‘hell no,’” said Tiffany Marin Graves, Garrett’s mom. “But it was what kept him moving forward. The belief that he would one day play again. It wasn’t easy to make the decision. And there are a lot of precautions that we’ve taken to get to this point.
“I just think that unless you’ve been through something similar and can see how it could completely change the identity of your son and his outlook on life if we would have said ‘no.’ It was a risk we were willing to take.”
Wes Graves added, “Garrett handled it all like a fine young man should. He kept his chin up and knew he would recover. For Tiff and I it was scary, but we’d rather him have the quality of life he wants and live. That’s what is important to him and us — is not living in fear.”
Back on the field with his teammates, Graves has a new appreciation for life.
“It’s taught me a lot of things,” he said. “It put a lot of things in perspective for me. You really don’t want to take a day off because it could all be taken away from you. Everything got flipped upside down in a matter of five minutes.
“It kills me when I see people dreading practice, because I’m like, ‘no way, it’s practice, let’s go do this.’”
Will Smith, Graves’ best friend and fellow defensive back, said taking the field with Graves in the season opener at Antelope was a moment he won’t soon forget.
“It was a captivating moment for both of us,” he said. “Being able to pad up with Garrett after knowing all the adversity he’s gone through was a surreal moment. It was like we’ve finally made it. I’m really proud of him.”
‘Giving everything he’s got’
Graves earned a starting spot in the NU secondary this season and has also earned the respect of head coach Dennis Houlihan.
“He came out and he’s played like this is the last time he will put on pads,” Houlihan said. “He’s giving it everything he’s got. He’s a talented kid and is playing like he hasn’t missed a beat.”
Through the first two games Graves has five tackles and has helped the Miners to a 1-1 start.
“Out of everything I just learned to be an optimist,” Graves said. “When you get bad news, don’t accept it and go make something good out of it. Everything happens for a reason and hopefully it will work out — and it did. The lesson it taught me was to keep working hard and be positive.”
As far as his health goes, he said he’s feeling fine.
“Honestly I feel great,” he said ahead of Friday’s game against Lincoln. “Nothing has come up health wise. I don’t even really think about it anymore, or at least try not to.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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