BISHOPVILLE, S.C. – First, it was a bone-cancer scare. A few years later, a horrific car accident.
All this before the end of Xavier Boney’s junior year at Lee Central High School.
While Boney lay in a Columbia hospital bed from late March until early May, he had seven broken ribs (four on left, three on right), three broken bones in the spine of his neck, a collapsed lung, fractured sternum, fractured jaw and even a gash on his head that required 14 staples.
Instead of finishing track season as a distance runner and preparing for the Stallions’ spring football practice as a tight end/linebacker, all of Boney’s attention had to be on recovering physically and emotionally.
And of course, spiritually.
Without them, the long road ahead becomes even longer.
But prayers, along with a visit and pep talk from his football coach, along with a football signed by teammates and classmates were just what he needed.
As a result, that shortened the road.
A road, coincidentally, is where this began.
On March 31, as Boney left his girlfriend’s Columbia house and was traveling back home, his car went off the road and into a tree.
His father, James Veney, who works full time for the city of Hartsville fire department and part time for the one in Lee County, was contacted by dispatch telling him that a car accident had involved Xavier.
“Me and my wife (Beauty) went to the wreck, and when we got there, they were already trying to extricate Xavier,” Veney said. “I asked them if they needed help while also trying to keep my son and my wife calm.”
Five years before that, another crisis had hit Xavier and his family when he was originally diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer in his right arm. He had a couple of biopsies and then had surgery to get the porta cath put in to receive chemotherapy.
But before any chemo went into his system, it was discovered it was actually a benign cyst that could heal on its own. Xavier’s arm was then kept in a splint until the bone grew back.
After overcoming that, and then a few years later being seriously injured in the automobile accident, it could be easy to just throw the hands up in the air and mutter, “What next?”
It’s not weakness. It’s being human.
That’s when Lee Central coach Justin Danner was asked to give Xavier a pep talk – this time about something greater than football.
This wasn’t about driving home a will to win. Instead, it was about driving home a will to live.
“Xavier became frustrated and wanted to give up,” said Beauty, who is instructional coach for 4K (kindergarten) through fifth grade at Lower Lee Elementary. “So, we wanted to reach out to coach Danner to give that hard coach’s love.”
Danner, who coached linebackers on Hartsville’s 2012 Class 3A state championship team, decided to do just that. After he and running backs coach Jamie Mack visited Xavier’s hospital room, Danner had a heart-to-heart talk with Xavier after presenting him with the signed football.
“She said that he wasn't trying as hard as he could, so I told him that he is one of our hardest-working guys and he knows that he has to fight for what he wants,” Danner recalled. “If you wanna get better, you're gonna have to fight for it. That’s no different than in the weight room or on the field. Now get to it! I got some more fussing to do at you and I'm planning on fussing, so plan on getting outta here so I can!”
Suffice to say, that worked.
“I don’t know what it is about coaches and players,” Beauty said. “The players listen to the coaches more than their own parents. So I think that helped him tremendously. Players don’t like to let their coaches down. I really think that helped his mindset and gave him that strength and will to want to get out of that hospital.”
Xavier more than welcomed the pep talk.
“Even before the wreck, (Danner) had been telling me I was one of the players he needed to depend on,” Xavier said. “Coach Danner is always trying to make sure everything is good with us; he’s like the father at school for us. If we reach out to him, he’ll help with anything.”
That’s what makes Danner so vital. But that’s what also makes any coach so vital.
This is just one example of a coach touching an athlete’s life. There are others.
So many others.
Xavier left the hospital May 3, but was not allowed to play football anymore. He found a new calling, however, with the Stallions: Filming their practices and games.
“I’m still out there talking and joking with the players and coaches and all; it’s just in a different capacity,” Xavier said. “If you look at it now, I’m able to help the coaches in a lot of ways. Filming from atop, I can see ways for them to get better that they don’t see.”
Xavier hopes to have one final checkup on his ribs and one final checkup on his neck.
Then, he’ll be cleared.
As Beauty looks at that photos of the crumpled wreck her son was in, and she sees Xavier's progress since then, it marvels her.
“It was a miracle, that’s the only way I could look at it,” she said. “It was amazing he’s still alive.”
Veney also gives thanks to a higher power.
“I believe it was a little bit of everything and God,” Veney said. “If it wasn’t for God, my son probably wouldn’t be here. I’d have to give God all the honor and glory first. And then between us and his mother and everyone else praying for him, he overcame some pretty difficult odds.”
Xavier is back to participating in ROTC and hopes to return to distance running for the Stallions’ track team this spring.
Whether that happens or not, Xavier is excited about whatever is in front of him.
“I’m just glad to still be here,” Xavier said.