PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — Pensacola High School head football coach Cantrell Tyson had the scare of his life Saturday morning, collapsing on the field and suffering a stroke during the third quarter against Pine Forest.
Tyson, in his first year of coaching at PHS, said he started the game with a small headache, but it eventually grew into something much worse.
“I could tell there was something off about myself,” Tyson told WKRG News 5. “I told my assistant that I needed some medicine because I thought it was a normal headache. If I’m not mistaken, our defense recovered a fumble, and we were getting ready to go on offense. I look at my quarterback and I give him the play, I know that I am saying words, but nothing is coming out. It was at that point; I knew that something was wrong. That was the last thing I remember, my quarterback looking at me before I collapsed.”
Tyson was then transported to Sacred Heart Hospital, where doctors said the 29-year-old suffered a stroke.
“Being 29 years old, I thought I had the world at my fingertips,” said Tyson. “I was on top of the world. I’m the head coach at Pensacola High School, one of the most storied programs in the state. To hear that I had a stroke, it’s like, hold on.”
While in the ambulance, Tyson said he thought he wouldn’t make it.
“Every bit of me thought I was going to die,” said Tyson. “I told Coach Helton to let my boys know that I love them. I wanted my mom to know that I loved her. My siblings as well. I’m a brother of seven, so I’ve always been around a large family.
With family members driving an hour and a half to Sacred Heart from Opp, Ala., and coaches heading there, as well, Tyson said doctors gave him five to 10 minutes to decide on a procedure that would save his life.
“For every procedure, there are side effects that aren’t very good,” Tyson said. “So, my mother was actually in route, about 40 minutes away. At this point, I am trying to make decision on how to save my own life. I remember my mom being on the phone with my principal telling him that they need to save my life, and they did.”
With faith being a huge factor in Tyson’s life, he said that this experience has solidified that faith.
“I’m going to try and not get emotional,” Tyson said, holding back tears. “My momma taught me how to pray. She says this all the time, ‘When things get tough, and you don’t know how to do anything else, you know how to pray.’ That has stuck with me ever since I was a little boy. If I don’t know how to do anything else, I know how to pray. During those moments when we didn’t know, when we could have performed the procedure and I could have still died, to have faith in God and knowing that regardless of whatever the outcome may be, I was going to be taken care of. Whether I lived, or whether I died that very second, I knew that I was going to be taken care of.”
Though his Tigers lost on the field, finishing the game while he wasn’t there is something that he is even more proud about.
“My kids face adversity every single day of their lives,” said Tyson. “I’ve got kids that go home to places that get shot up, they go homes that don’t have food, don’t have power. They face adversity every day. For them to finish that football game on Saturday, that goes to show you that they are equipped for stuff. For me as a coach, I was so proud to hear that they finished the game. We didn’t win on the scoreboard, but we grew as a family. That to me, means more than anything.”
Since Saturday, Tyson said the Pensacola community has shown an outpouring of support.
“I think I counted 36 cards, four cases of flowers and numerous text messages and phone calls,” said Tyson. “Not just within the PHS family, but from every single head football coach in the Escambia County Public School system. People around the country have emailed, sent emails, texted, sent direct messages on Facebook. The encouragement and uplifting support have been amazing. In a world where everybody wants us to be a part, just a little kid from Opp having a stroke on the sideline at a football game brought people together. That means a lot to me.”
Tyson was released from Sacred Heart on Wednesday afternoon, but doctors said he is not allowed to be on the sidelines, just yet. They said he was diagnosed with a hole in his heart and will be on a heart monitor for a little over a month.
“The hole in my heart is something that has never been detected before,” said Tyson. “I played high school sports and played in college and never knew it. I’m going through the process of doing some outpatient therapy and hopefully getting back to coaching soon. I realize that in order for me to be there for my guys, I have to be there for myself. So, we have a plan in place for getting me back, even if it is coaching from a different environment like a press box or something.”
With a new outlook on life after the experience, Tyson said life is like a vapor.
“It is here for one second and it’s gone,” said Tyson. “I tell people all the time, the second you are born is the second that you begin to die. What you do in between that first breathe and the last one, that is what matters. You’ve got to embrace every bit of that and love people, live and laugh. Love, live, laugh.”
Tyson played two years of college football at Faulkner University before he got into coaching. Before PHS, he had coaching jobs at Phil Campbell, Winterboro, Hanceville, Carbon Hill and Opp, before being hired at PHS in March.
The Tigers have an off week this week before taking on Gulf Breeze on Sept. 22.