He could not be walking but is.
He could not be going to Saks’ pep rally today but will attend and, no doubt, goose spirits for a school celebrating its first football team to start 5-0 since 1971.
He could not be attending the Wildcats’ crucial region game against Glencoe tonight, but he’ll watch from the press box as teammates wear his jersey No. 2 on the backs of their helmets and wristbands.
The sophomore could also not have hope for a near future in sports, but he likely will play basketball, track and — if all goes ideally with his rehab — football again at Saks.
Dennard’s prognosis could not border on a miracle but does, and he gets it.
“If I had gone back in the game, I don’t know where I’d be right now,” he said. “I’d probably be paralyzed or even dead.”
It could easily have happened that way, because neither Dennard nor his coaches knew how seriously he was injured during Saks’ 47-0 victory at J.B. Pennington this past week. He showed no signs and felt ready to go back into the game.
The scare of Dennard’s life started when the receiver/running back went in motion across the line of scrimmage, took a handoff and sought a running lane. He cut up field and went to leap a defender, expecting the defender to dive at his legs.
The Pennington defender stayed up and made contact, slowing Dennard. Just as Dennard kicked free, another defender came from behind and wrapped Dennard’s arms.
Dennard couldn’t raise his arms to brace his fall. He fell on his helmet, and his head rolled.
Saks coach Clint Smith wasn’t sure what to think.
“He rolls over, gets up and just kind of shakes his head and says, ‘Coach, I need to get a few plays out,’” Smith said. “I said, ‘OK, go ahead and shake it off and see what’s going on.’
“He just said his neck was burning a little bit. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s done something serious.’ He was shaken up, and that’s the best way to say it.”
Saks was leading 21-0, and Smith told Dennard to take his pads off, get water, put ice on his neck and see how it goes. Dennard later told Smith he felt better.
“After a while, he’s up cheering the team on and doing everything,” Smith said.
Dennard asked Smith to re-enter the game, but Smith and trainer Lane Patterson erred toward caution. After the bus ride back to Saks, Smith called Dennard into his office and checked again.
“I said, ‘How are you feeling?’” Smith said. “He said, ‘Coach, it don’t hardly hurt anymore.’”
Smith still urged Dennard to get his neck checked Saturday morning, which almost didn’t happen.
Dennard went home Friday night, and his mom gave him Ibuprofen. After she went to work Saturday, she called back home to check.
“I said, ‘Corpio, are you OK?’” Liz Dennard said. “He said, ‘Yes ma’am.’ I said, ‘You’re going to the doctor this morning,’ and he’s like, ‘No ma’am, I don’t need to go to the doctor.’”
Against Corpio’s objections, Xavier Dennard took his son in to see doctors.
“Him and Corpio on their way, Corpio kept saying he didn’t want to go to the doctor,” Liz said. “They started to turn back around. His dad told him he’d better get it checked out because, the week before, he had a little crick in his neck.”
About 11 a.m., Xavier called Liz at work with the news that their son was to be transported by ambulance from Stringfellow Memorial Hospital to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham.
“He told me that he (Corpio) had broken his neck, and he was very blessed,” Liz said.
Doctors who examined Corpio at Children’s were startled.
“It (the bone) was just barely hanging on,” Liz said. “It was the fifth and sixth vertebra down.
“We looked at the X-rays, and he was very lucky. It was barely hanging on and barely touching his spine. If it would have not been hanging on, as broke as it was, it would have punctured his spine.”
As part of their training, Saks’ football players go through a battery of neck-strengthening exercises where a partner provides resistance. Corpio’s neck strength held the broken bones in place and made the difference between paralysis and a good prognosis, doctors told Liz.
“The doctors that saw him were just amazed that he got up and walked off the field,” Smith said. “Doctor told him that, basically, your vertebra is like that (he aligned his fists), and his was right there (he slid his top fist forward).
“They told him, one more lick or one more time he could have slipped and fell, and it could have been a lot worse.”
As it stands, the worst of it was an initial word from doctors that Corpio should no longer play football, which was an emotional blow. It’s his favorite sport, and his coaches had seen big things for him.
Corpio started as a freshman and had come on this season. He has 401 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns, including a kickoff return that spurred the Wildcats’ comeback against Ashville.
Initially being told he would not play football again hit Corpio hard.
“He was laying there just listening to me and the doctor talking, and he just cried so bad,” Liz said. “That hurt me more than anything, because football is his passion.
“I tried to talk to him. I said, ‘Corpio, you’ve got to look at it this way. You’ve still got your life. You’re still able to walk, talk and play other sports. God gave you your life. You could have been gone.
“‘If you wouldn’t have gone to the doctor and found out this problem, then at practice on Monday you could have been paralyzed or you would have lost your life’.”
Corpio underwent surgery Sunday morning to have a plate and eight screws inserted in his neck.
He couldn’t eat before surgery, so, come Monday morning, he wolfed down a cereal variety pack of Frosted Flakes, Reese’s Puffs, Apple Jacks, Fruit Loops and Trix.
After telling nurses he wanted to walk, he stood up for an hour then walked with his mom.
“He walked with me two solid hours,” Liz said. “The director of the hospital was getting off the elevator and said, ‘I know that’s not the patient in Bed 4.’
“The nurse came down the hall and said that’s the patient in Bed 4, and she (the director) was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen somebody have surgery, in ICU then get up and walk the next day’.”
Corpio returned home Wednesday, and he and his mom visited their church, Saks Baptist Church.
“The more people talk to me and pray with me, it makes me understand more that I’m so blessed, and he’s blessed,” Liz said. “They say he’s just a walking miracle.”
Corpio faces six to 12 months of rehab, and doctors have told him there’s every reason to believe he could eventually play sports other than football. After initially ruling out football, they re-opened a slight possibility.
“Before we left out (of the hospital), we talked to the doctor, and she said, ‘It’s a good thing he can play basketball and baseball, but we’ll talk about football later’,” Liz said. “He started smiling then.”
Corpio has kept smiling, thanks in part to uncounted text messages from friends and teammates.
“They just blew my phone up,” he said. “… They said they hope I recover soon and that God is always with me and, if I believe in God and believe that I’ll recover from my injury, then I’ll be OK.”
Today is a big day for Corpio and his teammates and classmates. The game against Glencoe (4-1) features a nearby region rival and the Wildcats’ biggest test this season.
And Corpio will be there, for the pep rally and the game. It’s the answer to many prayers and questions fielded by Xavier Dennard Jr., Corpio’s older brother and a defensive end on the football team.
“They’re just asking, ‘When are we going to get to see him?’” Xavier Jr. said. “They ask, ‘Is he doing OK?’ I say, ‘He’s doing fine. He’s up and said he’s feeling like himself.’”
It sure beats what could have been, a thought Corpio said has occurred a lot over the past week. In one way, his life is almost normal.
“I’m excited,” he said Wednesday. “I’m just ready for Friday to get here.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.