Michigan coach Brady Hoke was standing right alongside freshman defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins when the freshman went down with a neck injury during practice on Friday.
It was Hoke’s drill, a simple one-on-one with the linemen. An ambulance was called at 8:57 a.m. to whisk the 6-foot-3, 340-pound Pipkins away.
“I was there,” Hoke said. “You didn’t think it was going to be real bad, but you’re not sure.”
It was a flashback moment for Hoke, inducing the kind of memory that never leaves.
As Pipkins was carted off the field and rushed to University Hospital, Hoke was catching glimpses of his lingering memory of Ball State receiver Dante Love lying stiff and motionless on the turf at Indiana’s Memorial Stadium on Sept. 20, 2008.
Love had taken a swing pass from quarterback Nate Davis out of the backfield. He started to turn up the sideline and was thumped by Indiana linebacker Geno Johnson and cornerback Chris Adkins.
The ball popped loose and Hoosiers safety Nick Polk scooped it up and ran in for a touchdown. Love stayed on the ground. Minutes later, he was strapped onto a spine board and rushed to the Bloomington Hospital.
Ball State won the game — the school’s first-ever victory over a BCS opponent — but Hoke wasn’t around to celebrate. He was en route to the hospital.
After a five-hour surgery the next morning, Love regained movement of his arms and legs and was diagnosed with a cervical spine fracture and spinal cord injury. Love didn’t played another down of football at Ball State, but he helped out Hoke’s staff later in the 2008 season.
Fortunately, Pipkins injuries are less severe.
The 18-year-old had movement in his extremities when the paramedics arrived and was taken to the hospital for “precautionary reasons,” according to Hoke’s statement on Friday.
Pipkins was released that afternoon and was back in Schembechler Hall without a neck brace before the end of the day.
“Our medical staff here did a phenomenal job of taking the right precautions and all that,” Hoke said Tuesday.
Pipkins returned to practice on Monday and participated in full pads on Tuesday. He is expected to see significant time at defensive tackle as a freshman this season, barring any lingering effects from the neck injury.
The medical setback notwithstanding, Pipkins has made progress in Hoke’s eyes this fall.
“This is big boy football and it’s a little different, so the speed of the game, the physicalness of the game, the burst, the intensity is always hard,” Hoke said. “This has been a grind for (the freshmen).”
And Hoke knows all too well that the grind can come to a screeching halt in an instant, whether on the practice field or on gameday. On Tuesday, he was asked if an injury like Pipkins’ automatically took him back to the Love incident.
“Huh, Dante Love,” Hoke said. He paused and looked down, letting the the memory replay yet another time. “Yeah, it does.”