By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – This time a year ago, Rodney Scott made a friend for life, but it came with great sacrifice on the part of the friend.
Scott, a freshman Ole Miss running back then, was called a hero for his awareness that saved Auburn defensive back Zac Etheridge from a paralyzing spinal cord injury and possibly much more.
As Scott carried for a short gain on a rushing play, Etheridge darted in for the tackle and was hurt after colliding awkwardly with teammate Antonio Coleman.
Scott’s progress stopped, but he wasn’t hurt. A running back’s natural response when the whistle blows is to bounce up and return to the huddle, but Scott knew something was unnatural.
Etheridge was stabilized, carted off the field and taken to a local hospital. Auburn went on to win 33-20.
Etheridge and Scott know one another on a much more personal level now as Auburn, No. 1 in the BCS rankings, visits Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday.
“We talk about twice a month,” Scott said.
There wasn’t much talking going on, no personal introductions, when Etheridge lay motionless on top of Scott’s body, and Scott did nothing to disrupt him.
“It was something in my mind that told me he could be seriously injured. In the time that I waited for him to get up, I could tell he was not making an effort to get up, so I just stayed still,” Scott said. “The trainers came in, and they kept telling me to stay still, so I did for about 20 minutes.”
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt was eager for the next play and initially wondered why Scott was slowing things down.
“That was an unbelievable scene. I remember asking Coach (Derrick) Nix why Rodney was laying on the ground? He said he just knew that something was wrong, and that he needed to stay where he was. Zac was limp, and was not moving, so thank goodness Rodney did not move at all,” Nutt said.
Etheridge’s family has called Scott an “angel,” and they contacted him, showering him with praise in the day’s following the accident.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik also called Scott and made it a point to use his platform to emphasize the importance of Scott’s actions.
It wasn’t long before the country took notice. There was national media coverage in June when Scott and Etheridge won the SEC’s Sportsmanship Award, and in September they were nominated for the Courage Award presented by the Orange Bowl and the Football Writers Association of America.
Etheridge has made a complete recovery. He’s again a starter in the secondary and one of Auburn’s leading tacklers.
He’s picked off two passes, and in Auburn’s 65-43 win over Arkansas, Etheridge returned a fumble 47 for a touchdown.
Scott continues to play, though his role hasn’t increased much from last year. He’s currently the third back in a three-player rotation. He’s carried 17 times for 62 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s just been amazing,” Etheridge said. “I’m playing football again in less than a year. I try not to think too much about what happened. I just want to keep on playing and be a part of this team.”
It’s almost impossible not to think about what happened, because both players are frequently asked about the events over a few minutes that changed a lifetime.
“I enjoy talking about it, and it isn’t a bad thing at all. I still get asked about the play on a regular basis,” says Scott, a native of Cross City, Fla.
While Etheridge may shy away from the attention, he recognizes the uniqueness of the story, its impact on his life and Scott’s and how it continues to shape them.
He says, “It’s two great guys with great character and belief and trust in God.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.