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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Meigs County High School junior offensive lineman Logan Oetting is a starter for the Tigers this season after missing two years of football while recovering from a cracked vertebrae in his neck and a cyst on his brain, the results of being kicked while down during a game when he was 14.

The two steps Logan Oetting took toward his team's sideline before collapsing could easily have been his last in a football uniform. Doctors would later tell his parents they could have been the last steps of his young life.

Midway through his eighth-grade season in Meigs County's youth league, Oetting was kicked in the head by an opponent while he was on the ground. The force of the blow was so severe that it cracked the C2 vertebrae in the 14-year old's neck, and although he got up and tried to walk off the field, he managed just two steps before passing out.

Oetting spent the next four months in a neck brace and was unable to attend school because of the concussion's effects, which included sensitivity to light and persistent migraines. An MRI later revealed a cyst on Oetting's brain, and the combination of that discovery and the neck injury led the family's neurologist to inform them his football career was likely over.

The teenager was inconsolable.

"Not being able to be a part of the team affected him quite a bit," said Oetting's mother, Brittany. "He was depressed, and nothing seemed to cheer him up other than when the neurologist told him if his neck healed completely, he might be cleared to play again.

"It was two years to the day when we went for an MRI and were finally told that his neck had healed and the cyst was no longer a concern to prevent him from playing. Ultimately we decided it was best for him mentally to be out there. He had tears in his eyes when he said nothing else would make him happy, so I kind of just said 'Here we go' and relented."

For the two years, he was forced to step away from the game, Oetting continued to work out with the Meigs County High School football team despite believing he would not be allowed to step back onto the field. Once doctors gave his family the go-ahead, he never held back, determined to prove to coaches he could contribute for the Tigers.

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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Meigs County's Logan Oetting goes through a blocking drill at practice Tuesday as the undefeated Tigers prepare for this week's TSSAA Class 2A semifinal at Trousdale County.

"When I first started back, it took some time to get used to getting hit again, but the contact is what I've always loved about the game," Oetting said. "This is one of the happiest years of my life. I'm starting on my high school football team, and that is a really big deal.

"I honestly never thought I'd get to even play again, but I'm honored to be on the field with my teammates. They helped get me ready to do what I'm able to do now."

What Oetting has been able to do began with a spot start for an injured teammate in the season opener. After an impressive first game and steady progress during practices, the 5-foot-11, 230-pound junior lineman had worked his way into the starting rotation by the Tigers' fourth game.

"We knew he was a tough kid," Tigers coach Jason Fitzgerald said. "That toughness is something that makes him stand out. When your offense is clicking the way ours has this year, that tells you we're playing pretty good up front. People will see the numbers for the backs, but we're winning it up front and Logan is a big part of that."

With Oetting a fixture at right tackle since the early stages of the season, the offense has gained more than 4,000 yards — including 3,200 on the ground — and averaged 14 yards per play. The Tigers (13-0), who also have averaged 43 points per game, will try to continue their undefeated run at Trousdale County (11-2) in Friday's semifinal round. Waverly (10-2) visits Peabody (12-0) in the other matchup, with the semifinal winners set to meet Dec. 5 at Tennessee Tech in the BlueCross Bowl for the 2A title.

Oetting is very much a part of the Tigers' quest to return to the championship game after losing last year's to Peabody. His mother understands what that means to him.

"What happened to him is not what normally happens in the normal sportsman play of football," Brittany said of the injury. "I have to remind myself of that a lot. And I pray a whole lot, especially on game day, for him to stay safe.

"But I tried to hype up other sports to get him interested in anything else, and he absolutely refused. He was very strong willed and determined that he was going to get back out on the field to play with his teammates, and he's worked his way back there.

"Everything for him this season has been like a once in a lifetime moment, because we didn't know if he would ever get to experience it again."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

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