Putnam City West senior Emahdre Hightower knew something was wrong. This past summer, he began having trouble swallowing. For one of the top athletes in school, something as natural as eating and drinking suddenly became very difficult.
“I woke up one day and thought it was just a sore throat, so I went and bought a lot of medicine to try and heal it,” said Hightower. “After a week or two I went to the doctor and they couldn’t figure out what it was. I had a basketball tournament in Atlanta and when I got there it just started getting worse and worse. So I went to the ER.”
Doctors in Atlanta told him that had he not gone to the hospital it could have been fatal. They cut air bubbles out of Hightower’s throat during the emergency surgery and urged him to see a doctor when he returned to Oklahoma. By the time he returned home, his condition had improved and he was able to resume playing sports.
The thought of not being able to compete in athletics brought a newfound appreciation for Hightower. He had stepped away from football for a couple of years after entering high school to concentrate on basketball, but he never lost his love for the game.
“I’ve been playing football all my life,” remarked Hightower, who’s played running back, quarterback, safety and even returned kicks this season for the Patriots. “When I got in high school, in ninth grade, I started liking basketball more. I wasn’t ‘The Man’ on the football team, so I started falling back from it.”
Hightower might be considered “The Man” now for Putnam City West. Although the Patriots are winless through their first seven games this season, they haven’t given up and are focused on getting better every day.
“We just keep our heads up,” remarked Hightower, who models his running style after Rakeem Boyd of Arkansas and the NFL’s Todd Gurley. “Any game we go out there, we feel like we’re going to win. We love that everybody thinks we’re going to lose. We love that. It gives us more motivation.”
That positive attitude is a credit to first-year head coach Craig Maynard. A former Panhandle State football player, Maynard is tasked with improving the Patriot program.
“Right now, the program is positive,” said Maynard. “The kids aren’t giving up until there’s all zeros on the clock. It may not show on paper, but I feel we’re headed in the right direction.”
“Every week he’s positive,” said Hightower of Maynard. “He thinks we can beat anybody. We know that we can beat anybody. We just have to put it together.”
Despite last summer’s injury scare, Hightower is giving it his all in his senior season.
“Even in practice he’s the ultimate competitor,” said Maynard of Hightower. “Even though he’s our best player and our number one running back, he doesn’t shy away from contact. When you have one of your top players doing that every day, that motivates everybody else that they’ve got to bring it to the table every day.”
“I feel like I’m blessed that I’m still here and doing this,” replied Hightower. “Some people may have sat out, but I’m still going.”