After being ambulanced to a hospital during the season opener last month, Dayton running back Jason Sandborn faced the prospect of an uncommon surgical procedure at UC Davis.
That’s because Sandborn — who’s deaf — wears a cochlear implant with magnets imbedded under the skin over his ear.
While at Pershing County General Hospital following his Aug. 28 injury against Lovelock, Sandborn and his family were told an MRI might be necessary given the possibility of a torn ACL. The magnets in Sandborn’s head are incompatible with magnetic resonance imaging and would have to be temporarily surgically removed.
But Sandborn was worried about something else.
“My biggest fear was I was not going to play football again,” said Sandborn, Dayton’s junior running back and linebacker. “I was just thinking, ‘God, can I please play football again?’”
“We thought it was a lot worse than it was,” his father, Bret Sandborn, said. “It was nothing malicious, but after being tackled, another kid knocked him from a different direction and forced (Jason) to do the splits. It was ugly. I would still be curled up in a ball on the field if that was me.”
After evaluation and based on the movement of his leg, doctors determined an MRI wasn’t necessary, but Sandborn was sidelined for two weeks with a sprained hamstring.
In only his second play back from injury while playing linebacker last week at Truckee, Sandborn grabbed an interception before he was tackled at the Wolverines’ 25-yard-line.
He was pumped.
“He’s always a leader on the football field,” said Dylan Torgerson, Sandborn’s teammate and friend since third grade. “He’s very quiet on the field because he can’t hear. But he’s intense.”
“He’s a daredevil”
When Dayton takes the field at 7 p.m. today for its Homecoming matchup against Fallon, Sandborn won’t play with his cochlear implant device.
While the magnets remain in his head, the external headpiece that transmits sound and fits over his ear remains in the locker room. Movement inside the helmet and sweat make the device impossible to wear during a game, so Sandborn doesn’t hear a quarterback’s snap count, an opponent’s footsteps or — “thankfully,” according to his mom — trash talking during the game.
“Without the cochlear implant and the processor, he is completely deaf,” his mother, Tracy Sandborn, said. “He has had hearing aids since he was 2-and-a-half years old. When he turned 9, he had to have his first cochlear surgery, but it’s never stopped him from doing everything he wants to do. He’s a daredevil.”
Sandborn began playing football in third grade. Coaches started him at center where a quarterback’s slap on his backside signaled the start of the play.
But standing 5-foot-9, 170 pounds today doesn’t make for a good matchup on the line, even though Sandborn saw time at defensive end in Dayton’s opener against Lovelock.
Sandborn relishes the underdog role, something that’s earned him the nickname “Mad Dog” among his teammates for the way he bounces back after getting knocked down or rose to the occasion in the batter’s box after making an error on the baseball field when he was younger.
“He just loves sports,” his father said. “In seventh grade, he had never played basketball, but wanted to try out and he made the team. As a sophomore last year, he went to state for track and field. He’s fun to watch.” Sandborn, a guard for the junior varsity team last year, hopes to make Dayton’s varsity basketball team this season.
Over the years while playing football, he’s transitioned to linebacker, running back and defensive end.
“I just keep my eye on the ball,” said Sandborn, who sees sports therapy as a potential career and recently visited Gallaudet University for the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington, D.C. “Once that ball moves, I go. I also read lips really well. We do signs on the sideline for defense.”
“He’s a phenomenal young man,” first-year Dayton head coach Tom Eck said. “He’s high energy and a leader on the team.”
It’s not always easy for his mom, especially on plays like the game one injury, watching her son ambulanced to a hospital.
“You always worry when you’re children are hurt,” Tracy Sandborn said. “I’m a worry wart. He’s my baby. But it didn’t stop him. We could never stop him. He has to live a normal life. You can’t put your child in bubble wrap. It’s not appropriate. We just try to make sure he’s careful.”
She remains her son’s biggest fan.
“No matter what sport Jason has played, his mom has always been the loudest fan in the stands, even though she knows Jason can’t hear her,” Torgerson, also a junior, said. “I’ve grown up hearing her cheering for us year after year and it’s hard to believe that’s almost coming to an end. It’s a brotherhood, and I love Jason.”