Drew Fairchild trudged through a cold, wet Aiken High School football practice Monday afternoon as an overcast sky grew darker over the team's intersquad scrimmage.
Then the offensive lineman's eyes lit up and he sprung to action as he scooped up a fumbled ball at the line of scrimmage. Whistles blew and most of the team stopped playing, but Fairchild, seizing the moment, dragged a smaller defensive back 5 yards, broke free and sprinted toward the end zone.
"Did you see my touchdown?" he later asked a teammate.
It's obvious the starting lineman loves football, but on one life-changing day last spring Fairchild didn't have his favorite sport on his mind.
"Actually, I was worried about dying," he said.
Fairchild was accidentally stabbed in the chest by a knife March 7 when he and his brother were playing outside. He said the thrown knife felt like a punch, and he pulled it out of his own chest before being rushed to the emergency room. He suffered a collapsed lung and spent five days in the hospital, three in the intensive care unit.
"The knife was three inches from my heart," Fairchild said. "It was that close."
Fairchild said he wasn't sure he'd ever play again. As a second-team All-Region 5-AAAA player in 2008, he was approaching his senior season with expectations of being the leader on the offensive line. The Hornets, though always athletic, aren't blessed with size, which makes linemen almost more valuable than skill players.
"To be honest, when you get that phone call you don't really think about football. You're just concerned about his health," Aiken head coach Carey Johnson said. "But around here we don't worry too much about (injuries to) skill players, but when we lose a lineman that hurts us."
Fairchild started his comeback in the weight room.
At the time, he wasn't sure if it would actually happen. His teammates call him a fun-loving, upbeat guy, but when he first stepped back into the weight room Fairchild immediate saw the mountain in front of him. His weight had dropped from 240 pounds to 202, and it was obvious much of the lost weight was muscle.
"I lost 100 pounds on the bench (press), and my squat was even worse," he said. "It was bad, like from corn-to-grits bad."
With the help of teammate Phillip Carnley, Fairchild built up his muscle mass and returned to football-playing shape. He weighed in at 208 pounds by the time the opening-day roster was set, one of the smallest starting linemen, but he picked up a step or two along the way.
"He lost a lot of weight, and that does hinder him some, but I think it increased his agility a little bit," Johnson said. "He missed a good bit of the off-season, but he's still good."
Count Aiken quarterback Billy Vickers among those thankful that Fairchild attempted a comeback.
"He's one of the go-to guys on the offensive line," Vickers said. "Him and Phillip take the lead."
The Hornets (2-4) have dropped four in a row, including their first two region games. Another key region game takes place Friday when Aiken plays host to Richland Northeast (2-4).
Win or lose, Fairchild will be in the Aiken green. He said losing isn't the worst thing he's been through, and he's learned a never-give-up attitude is a valuable asset.
"Once I started (the comeback), I knew I wasn't going to give up," he said. "I'd warm the bench before I quit."