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La Verne Players Go on Defense

Four of Dykstra's teammates back school and trainer who cared for quarterback who suffered serious head injury.

November 26, 2002|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Breaking their silence about teammate Rollie Dykstra's injury, four University of La Verne football players defended the school's care of the senior quarterback and described him as a willing participant before he suffered a serious head injury in a game last month.

"I'm not trying to bash Rollie, but when you strap on the pads and helmet, you know there is danger involved. And he strapped on his helmet," said Justin Wolfchief, a freshman running back who trailed Dykstra on the option keeper that ended with Dykstra's injury in a game Oct. 19 against visiting Redlands.

Several La Verne players have grown frustrated, Wolfchief said, with criticism of the school's handling of Dykstra's injury by Dykstra's family and attorney Martin Cervantes. La Verne administrators have cited federal law that prevents them from discussing students, and the result has been a slanted interpretation of actual events, according to Wolfchief and La Verne teammates Ray Delgadillo, Phillip Faulding and Ernesto Rios.

Among the issues they classify as misrepresented:

* The contention that Dykstra was suffering severe headaches during the week before the Redlands game. The players say Dykstra disobeyed a trainer's request by attempting to practice while wearing a helmet, an act they describe as his "psychological" and "symbolic" display to teammates, coaches and trainers that he was in playing condition.

* The alleged statement by an unnamed player to Cervantes that, as a result of head pain, Dykstra vomited and was "drenching" (sweating profusely) less than two hours before the game. Wolfchief said he overheard Dykstra tell a teammate he'd thrown up because he'd had trouble swallowing some pills, and that his sweating was not excessive.

"I was taking handoffs from him, I would've noticed if [the sweating] was bad," Wolfchief said. "It was a hot day."

* Cervantes' description of the tackle that immediately preceded Dykstra's sideline collapse as "garden variety," implying a previous head injury had left Dykstra especially vulnerable to serious injury.

"He got hit hard by two guys," Wolfchief said. "He got stuck hard."

La Verne Coach Don Morel, informed of the players' comments, said, "I am confident that when all is said and done, it will be clear that the coaches and trainers at the University of La Verne handled this situation correctly."

Dykstra, 24, who'd previously played at Division I-AA Florida A&M, returned to college, and the football field, after a nearly two-year hiatus, emerging as Division III La Verne's starting quarterback. According to Dykstra's father, Roland Sr., and his girlfriend, Jennifer Ross, the player was experiencing severe headaches in the weeks before the game against Redlands.

Ross said Dykstra first expressed discomfort to her after he'd been sacked eight times Oct. 5 in a loss to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. She said Dykstra reported his head was "throbbing" after a 30-6 defeat at Cal Lutheran on Oct. 12.

Ross has said Dykstra told her La Verne trainer Jim May discouraged him from seeking medical attention, citing expense as a factor.

Early in the second quarter against Redlands, Dykstra was tackled on the option run and required assistance to reach the sideline. He collapsed there, then suffered seizures, a locked jaw and labored breathing that required a call for paramedics.

Dykstra emerged from a coma two weeks ago. He is being treated at Loma Linda University Center Rehabilitation Institute. Roland Dykstra Sr. said his son can't stand on his own and can't control his left side, but that he can speak sensibly and can feed himself with his right hand. Dykstra could return home as early as January.

Cervantes has said he expects to file a claim against La Verne in Los Angeles County Superior Court for negligence regarding the treatment of Dykstra before and after the injury.

Cervantes acknowledges the central argument of his case is based on why La Verne's staff, informed of Dykstra's headache, did not arrange for him to receive in-depth medical examination or treatment from a neurologist before clearing him to play.

"I have become aware that Rollie was set for some [medical] testing at a hospital, either an MRI or a CT scan; that it did not take place [before the Redlands game] and he was told it was not necessary," Cervantes said. "It looks like this is becoming their side of the story versus our side of the story. There are speculative gaps here. Our hope is that Rollie gets well and fills in those gaps. This comes down to who really talked to Rollie about this, who cleared him to play and why he did not have the test that would have definitively cleared him or not."

Rios, a fifth-year senior offensive lineman, said, "What they're not taking into consideration is the mentality of [Dykstra]. He's a battler, and what it comes down to is, if you're a football player, you want to be out there on Saturdays. That's how I think too. I'd rather deal with an injury than go to Jim [May]. If he thinks you're hurt, he'll take you out."

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