Ethan Crabtree
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Brock Netter

Brock is SOSA's primary writer and has worked for the Coshocton Tribune, the Kankakee Daily Journal (Ill.), the Vinton-Jackson Courier and the Jackson Telegram. He's a six-time award-winning journalist, a lifelong WWE fan, a suffering Bengals fan and calls the sidelines his home.

After devastating neck injury, Jackson’s Ethan Crabtree is doing what he loves most

At one point, Crabtree wasn't sure whether he'd ever play football again.

Brock Netter, Staff Writer

Southern Ohio Sports Authority is presented by OhioHealth.

JACKSON — Ethan Crabtree knows how lucky he is every day. Simply walking does the trick, let alone playing football again. 

What started as a normal routine day last summer turned into his, and his family’s, worst nightmare.  

Crabtree was on the job as a lifeguard at Jackson’s city pool. He decided to jump in the water, as he had done a million times before. But when he landed in the water, that’s when the nightmare began. 

“I was just about to get off work and go see my boys play since we were having a 7-on-7 that day. We were all messing around and I dove into the pool in the 12-foot area, not really thinking too much of it,” Crabtree said. “I ended up catching the slope of the pool as I leveled out, which goes from six feet to 12 feet. As I came up, I got that white light in my eyes and I felt a pinch in the back of my neck. I had the feeling of hot lava running through one vein from my neck to the tip of my thumb.”

He told his manager on duty that he needed to go to the hospital since it was a feeling he’d never experienced before. He was fitted for a neck brace, had an MRI taken and was told he needed to go to Columbus. 

After contacting his parents, they drove to Riverside Hospital, with a feeling that their son was just suffering from a concussion. 

The next morning, after spending the night in the hospital, around 5 a.m., everything changed. 

“The doctors called my parents and informed them that I was going into immediate surgery,” Crabtree said. “It turns out that I had fractured and chipped my C5 vertebrae, and that chip was putting pressure on my nervous system, which explained why I couldn’t really feel my right arm. It was a heck of a surgery and I’ve got the battle scars to prove it.”

After a lengthy surgery and an extended stay for recovery, he ended up having four plates, eight screws and a cadaver bone inserted to restructure and re-stabilize his neck. 

That also meant a long road ahead to a full recovery alongside physical therapy. Crabtree worked to speed up the process, taking kicks during practice with his newfound neck brace on. 

Still, and unfortunately, his 2022 football season was spent watching from the sidelines. 

Jackson’s Ethan Crabtree has been rock solid for the Ironmen this season. That’s after suffering a neck injury that almost ended his high school career in 2022. CREDIT: Seth Fain/Fain Photography

“That hurt the most. We had such a large group of seniors, I had a really good sophomore year and really felt like we had the chance to do something special,” Crabtree said. “Thinking back to those three games we lost, special teams had a big impact. Losing by three points to Ironton, we missed an extra point, Tri-Valley was 14-13 and we missed an extra point, and Bishop Watterson returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the playoffs. It hit me deep knowing I could have made a difference in those games, but couldn’t be out there.

“But guys like Jacob Winters, Bo Landrum and Brodie Butcher always encouraged me to keep my head up and continued to check on me, and even do so today. Having their support only made me want to support them and the rest of my teammates, even if I couldn’t take the field with them.” 

All of that time off gave Crabtree’s neck time to fully heal. And once he was cleared for action, he wasted no time getting right back in the weight room. 

And of course, back on the field. 

In the team’s season-opening 22-0 victory over Logan, he nailed two field goals, including a 46-yarder that he later found out set a new school record. 

“I think one of my best qualities that I displayed, even going back to my sophomore year, is that I don’t really get nervous going up to kick. But that game was very different,” Crabtree said. “It’s been so long since I played in a game and there’s always those thoughts in the back of your head like, ‘What if something goes wrong?’ But I was so excited to be on the field. I thank [Jackson] coach [Andy] Hall, who gave me two chances to kick. So it’s pretty cool to do as much as I did in my first game back.”

Jackson is currently 2-1 on the season, following a gritty win over Wheelersburg on Friday.

With seven games left in the regular season, and potentially more come playoff time, Crabtree is soaking up every single moment and believes as his team grows by the game, there’s potential for a long postseason run. 

But more importantly, his health is in good condition, his life is back to normal, and he’s back to kicking field goals.

“I thank God everyday that I’m at least walking,” he said. “The fact that I’m playing football again is the cherry on top of the cake.”


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