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Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Rhea County High School senior Jasper Lettner has taken on a new role with the football Eagles after facing life-threatening injuries due to a car wreck two years ago, but he has not lost his drive to work hard.

Rhea County High School football coach Mark Pemberton still remembers arriving at the hospital on a dreary October day two years ago to see one of his players in a fight for his life.

Riding in the back seat of a car that went off the road, Jasper Lettner was given bleak odds at survival after the wreck caused two broken vertebrae in his lower back, severe internal bleeding, a punctured lung, four broken ribs and a diaphragm that was completely ripped off.

Lettner, who also lost a kidney due to the wreck, would be put into a medically induced coma for 14 days.

"When we got to the hospital, I wasn't so sure he would make it or not," Pemberton said. "But he kept battling and stayed with it. Jasper is a tough kid and has the fight and will to win. Our kids rally around him now."

Lettner remains a contributor for the Class 5A Eagles, who are off to a 4-0 start for the first time since making a run to the state semifinals in 2014.

After once not knowing if he would ever walk again, the senior who wears No. 96 is thrilled to be able to walk the sideline and fire up his team on Friday nights. Lettner also helps break down video, works with the scout team's defense and has helped with game-day video.

Standing one win away from a Region 4-5A championship, Rhea County will try to secure that title for the first time since 2016 when it hosts Soddy-Daisy on Oct. 18. The Eagles have three road games before then, facing Gibbs, Ooltewah and Red Bank.

"If you don't believe and work hard, you are not going to get anywhere," said Lettner, a lifelong New England Patriots fan. "That's not just football, but life in general. This team has a strong brotherhood. We love to play football and hate losing.

"I still remember Rhea County losing to Knox West in the 2014 state semifinals by a touchdown. The past two years we were down, but I knew we could get back up. We have a lot of drive."

Lettner is a weightroom warrior just like everyone on the team, Pemberton said, and he gets after it in upper-body workouts even on days after he finishes rehab at Professional Therapy Services and Siskin hospital.

"Jasper will come in from his rehab and he's soaking wet because he has been working at it with all he's got," Pemberton said. "He had to fight for his life, and I think the game of football helped shape hard work and self-discipline in him. He always has a smile on his face and comes to work every day. He's in the thick of this with us all."

Pemberton believes Lettner would make a good football coach with his passion for the game and attention to detail. Lettner wants to go to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and focus on sports accounting and sports marketing while hoping to get an internship with an athletic team for the Mocs.

Grateful for every breath and step he takes, he also is thankful for what he has learned through his ordeal.

"I have been through a lot in the last two years, and it wasn't easy," Lettner said. "I think the road I have been through has made me a better and stronger person. More dedicated, too. When I set my goal, I am going to get there one way or another. That's also rooted in losing. I don't like to fail."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.

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