It's been over a year since a ranching accident drastically changed the lives of Mike Freidel and his family. The former defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at the University of South Dakota continues to recover from the serious brain injury he sustained in that accident. But football is helping restore some sense of normalcy.
For the past 16 months Mike Freidel has tackled his toughest opponent.
"It's a daily prayer. I hope today's the day that he breaks through. I hope today's the day that he answers some of our questions. I hope he's able to talk today. To say yes or no instead of just using the button, or whatever it might be," Mike's wife Joni said.
The severe brain trauma Mike suffered on a friend's ranch in June of 2006 has robbed him of the ability to function independently. And while he may never completely recover from his injuries, Mike's family continues to keep the faith.
"Mike has never been in the normal range, he's always been a little on the edge. So we're hoping that he breaks through those typical brain injury percentages and ratios," Joni said.
"Obviously I can hope for the world. I can hope for a total recovery. But anywhere from where he's at now to somewhat recovered would be a huge gift, and we would love that," Joni said.
The Freidel's got great news last December, when Mike was permanently transferred to Vermillion. A move that has enabled all of them to witness his progress on a daily basis.
"He knows we're here. He knows he's seeing us more consistently. So I just think for everybody, including extended family and friends. I think it's better for him at this point in time, and that's good," Joni said.
Now while Freidel's road to recovery is certainly long from completed, the move back to Vermillion has allowed him to reacquaint himself with football. Not as a coach, but as his family's biggest fan.
"Football is a parody for life. And so any opportunity we can give Mike to participate in their lives, that's a great day," Joni said.
One chance came with the start of high school football. Mike's three sons are all on Vermillion's varsity roster. And this fall, for the first time since his accident, their father has been back in the stands.
"That was one of the coolest things I've ever experienced. He got to be able to see me play, and it was my first varsity game that he saw me play, so it was a pretty big deal," Mike's son, Kylen said.
"It was really sweet just to look up there and see him in the crowd, knowing that he's getting better, and that he's trying is the main thing. I try to step up my game as much as I can for him, but just to see him up there is awesome," Mike's son, Jackson said.
"He's kind of been my football guy my whole life. He lets me know how everything is going and stuff, so it's kind of good to see him around the football atmosphere again. It gives me strength too, to see him here," Mike's son, Jerrod said.
And on this particular night - Parent's night - Mike's efforts were rewarded six-fold.
If you'd like to help the Freidel family, donations to the Mike Freidel Fund are still being accepted for at any Wells Fargo branch across the state.
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