It was the fifth concussion that did it for Christian Lezzer.
The former Clearfield High School standout-turned-Boston College defensive back was at practice a few weeks ago, working on perimeter drills. He tried to block a halfback heading his way, and their helmets cracked together. He felt dizzy. It didn’t go away.
Then, later in that same practice, Lezzer was in a tackle drill, and wrapped up well, but just happened to move his helmet down at the same time as his opponent, and their heads knocked again.
“I kind of blacked out for a second, I didn’t know where I was at,” he said. “I stood up and it took me a couple minutes to collect myself. Then the (team) doctors were over there with me.”
It took almost four weeks for the symptoms to wane, and that’s when Lezzer said he knew he had to consult with doctors, not just about his current status, but about his future, too.
“I didn’t know what concussion No. 6 would bring with it,” he said.
And on Tuesday afternoon, he released a statement on his Facebook and Instagram pages that announced his decision to leave the game for good.
“After my most recent concussion, I was faced with the most difficult decision of my life,” he wrote. “As of today, I have officially decided to retire from football in best interest for my health. I’m deeply thankful to my friends, family, teammates and coaches for all the support over the years.
“Football has taught me some of the greatest life lessons, but when one door closes, another opens. I will move forward and look back on my career with nothing but pride and appreciation. I have no regrets ... on to the next chapter of my life.”
He made the decision a few weeks ago, he said, and it stems partially from his past with head injuries — one he might not even have fully realized until talking recently with doctors about symptoms and side effects of concussions.
Lezzer thinks he had three of them in high school.
“I still played through (them) back then,” he said. “I wasn’t really sure, I knew something was wrong. I knew, I mean I got lit up quite a few times in high school, and there was a couple of times I remember specificially, I knew something was off. Didn’t really say anything about it, kind of played through it.”
At first, the hits brought nausea and fog. Lezzer remembers throwing up after a couple of games, and he had massive headaches that lasted “awhile.”
“The ones in high school weren’t as terrible, honestly,” he said. “I knew something was wrong but I knew at the same time, obviously I was dying to be on the field.”
Lezzer said he hid his symptoms from his coach, Tim Janocko, because if he and trainers suspected that Lezzer had a concussion, they would have “absolutely” pulled him. And, he said, to be out there with his teammates on a Friday night meant “everything” to him at the time.
“Playing the game of football, you’re going to have a lot of bumps and bruises,” he said. “A lot of players, they don’t think twice about it when they get hit in the head. I know I didn’t. Not one time did I think, ‘Oh, this is something way out of whack here, I have to go tell the coach.’ ”
And now, years later, looking back, would he have taken himself out of the game if he’d known he had a concussion?
“Absolutely not,” he said. “Should I have? Probably. Would I have? Probably not.”
Over the past couple of weeks, Lezzer has had some tough conversations on his way to figuring out his future.
Those with doctors were realistic and sobering — they were about long-term problems that could arise after suffering numerous head injuries. Lezzer said he broke down a couple of times, while realizing the decision he’d have to make.
“There’s no magic number for concussions,” he said the doctors told him. “Once you have so many, they’re going to come easier, they’re going to come more often.”
With coaches and teammates, the conversations were supportive. Lezzer, a sophomore, will be able to remain on medical waiver scholarship for the remainder of his time at Boston College.
“It was tough, because they know how much the game of football means to me,” he said, of telling his coaches his decision. “But at the same time, they realized this is the best decision for me, for my long-term health. They were thinking of it as parents, too. They were saying that if I was their kid, they don’t think they’d let me play anymore.”
Now, he will move forward. Football, Lezzer said, doesn’t define him — as much as he loves and will miss it.
“It’s not worth the long-term health risks. … I’m not one of those people, that, just because I’m done with football, my life is going down the drain,” he said. “I’ve always liked helping people. I think I’m going to get involved with some Special Olympics stuff up here. The Make-A-Wish Foundation, there’s some great stuff at Boston College here to get involved with, and I’m going to do some volunteer work.
“I’m going to be fine.”