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Last Effort Turns Tragic

La Verne quarterback Rollie Dykstra remains in a coma after suffering head injury against Redlands, the school that was his first choice.

October 23, 2002|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Rollie Dykstra just wanted to play one more season of football.

Ideally, that would have been at the University of Redlands. It was his hometown college, a perennial power in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and Bulldog Coach Mike Maynard had pursued Dykstra since his time as Redlands High's quarterback in 1995 and '96.

"Rollie was trying to finish up some spring and summer classes to get in here, but our admissions [process] closed before he had everything done," Maynard said.

"It just didn't work out. I wish it had. He's a terrific competitor. I liked the way he ran the team -- his field generalship, the way he managed his teammates and the way his teams responded for him. I continued to be impressed about that in him at La Verne. His last drive was a length-of-the-field march. It was obvious he still had that never-say-die spirit."

The last play of Dykstra's last drive was an option run Saturday. Instead of pitching back to University of La Verne teammate Justin Wolfchief, he kept the ball and charged toward the goal line, hoping he could ignite a rally. La Verne was down, 14-0, in a rivalry game packed with personal significance. The opponent was Redlands.

Dykstra, 24, was stopped less than a yard short of a touchdown. The Redlands defender who stopped him made a clean but hard tackle that took a devastating toll far beyond the quarterback's lost fumble. Dykstra needed the help of two trainers to reach the sideline. Once he got there, he collapsed.

"I looked in his eyes and it looked like all the lights went out," a teammate said.

Minutes later, Dykstra suffered violent convulsions and was taken to Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center.

Dykstra remains there in critical condition with a severe head injury. He is comatose and on a respirator. His parents, two brothers, and his 3-year-old daughter, Kayley Marie, keep vigil.

"They are searching for answers," La Verne Coach Don Morel said.

Morel disputed a rumor that Dykstra had suffered a concussion in a previous game. Dykstra reported a headache to coaches two days after the Leopards' 30-6 SCIAC loss at Cal Lutheran on Oct. 5. Morel said that because of injuries to other players, he'd ordered no-contact practices for two weeks before the Redlands game.

On Sunday, Dykstra underwent a procedure that relieved pressure and swelling on the brain, but a source close to Dykstra's family said, "This situation remains real fluid. The family is taking it hour by hour and they aren't sure what to expect. Right now, they just want their privacy."

Frank Garcia, a hospital spokesman, described Dykstra's condition as "guarded."

On Tuesday, La Verne and Azusa Pacific announced the cancellation of their scheduled nonconference game Saturday.

"Our players and coaching staff are not yet ready to participate in a competitive event at this time," La Verne Athletic Director Jim Paschal said.

On campus, trees are wrapped in green and gold ribbon and notes posted around the university encourage students to send their thoughts to Dykstra. La Verne coaches, players and trainers met with school crisis counselors Monday.

One of Dykstra's many shaken friends is Jonathan Best, a Redlands High security guard whose eyes moistened as he said, "I just talked to Rollie three weeks ago, and he was telling me how excited he was about playing again. He was telling me he was going to be getting quality minutes."

Indeed, Morel designated Dykstra his starting quarterback after Dykstra's performance in a hard-fought 34-17 loss to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Sept. 28. Dykstra was sacked eight times in relief of two-year starter Gabe Lujan, but he threw for 218 yards.

"Rollie and Gabe had grown to be close friends, but they knew only one of them could be the starter," Morel said. "Gabe came to us after the Claremont game and said he thought he could help the team more by playing wide receiver. He was right."

Dykstra began playing football at Redlands High, where he directed the Terriers to CIF Southern Section Division I first-round playoff victories in 1995 and 1996.

"Rollie was a driven, quality-type of kid," Best said. "He was always motivated to get on the field and compete. That attitude transcended to the way he lived his life. He was always full of life, always so happy to see you. "After Redlands High, Dykstra spent two years playing at San Bernardino Valley College, leading the junior college team to the Foothill Conference championship, a Southern California Bowl victory and a 9-2 record in 1997 while earning all-conference recognition.

After his sophomore season, Dykstra and some of his San Bernardino Valley teammates went to Division I-AA Florida A&M. He played in two games in 1999, one a 57-3 loss to Miami, but left school after the season to return home.

"He was going to become a new father and he was not very happy being so far from his home," said Maynard, the University of Redlands coach.

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