From hospital to hero: South Central QB’s return to football

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — On September 8, 2017, South Central visited North Pitt in week four of the high school football season.

The Falcons trailed 7-0 late in the first half when South Central’s junior quarterback Caleb Woodley threw a touchdown pass to tie the game.

Then he threw three more as South Central went on to win 40-7.

Not a bad showing for a junior making his first varsity start, but even more incredible considering what Woodley went through starting late last year.

“I started feeling like I was always sweaty,” said Woodley. “After a couple of days, I was fine. And then I just had my first seizure.”

“That was December 30,” said Stephanie Woodley, Caleb’s mother. “They checked him out, full neurology exam, did a CAT scan.”

“Couple days later, I had another one,” Woodley said. “Fell out of my chair. And then a few months later, I’m in the hospital, not knowing where i was.”

“After the second seizure, he never regained consciousness,” said Stewart Woodley, Caleb’s father. “Which is one of the ways I think they said they kind of knew encephalitis was probably the culprit.”

Encephalitis is a sudden onset inflammation of the brain caused by a virus.

Caleb would be put into a medically induced coma for five weeks with his prognosis unknown.

“I actually asked him ‘What do we do if he doesn’t make it?’” said Stephanie Woodley. “So yeah, there was a time when that was in the forefront.”

In all, he spent nine weeks in intensive care. But, despite the odds, Caleb woke up. And he had one thing on his mind: “My first response was, ‘Am i going to be able to play football again?’ That was my first response.”

“Trying to get into the ‘Can I play football?’ We were still trying wrestle with life,” said Steward Woodley. “You’ve been asleep for two months. So football, we told him if you recover. And that was the kind of thing, if you recover fully, then they say that football’s doable.”

Once out of the hospital, physical therapy and rehab began, with football the driving force to work even harder.

By the end of the summer, Caleb was ready to play, which first happened in that game at North Pitt.

He took over as the starting quarterback after an injury to the normal starter during practice and threw for 292 yards and four touchdowns in the blowout win.

“I was very surprised I was able to play that well in my first varsity game,” said Caleb Woodley. “When they told me I was going to start Friday night i was very nervous. But knowing how great my teammates are, they kept me and my confidence up. That really helped me a lot.”

“I was very excited for him,” said Stephanie Woodley. “You know, as a mom, the nerves get to you, whether your kid’s been through what Caleb’s been through or not,” said Woodley. “Because you want him to do well out there. And it was so neat to see him with all the nurses that came out from pediatric intensive care unit at Vidant. That was neat because he remembers some of them.”

That’s just the latest chapter in Caleb’s story. He’s beaten the odds once. And he’s focused on doing it again in another way.

“My ultimate goal is to become a professional football player,” Caleb Woodley said. “Ever since I saw that, first football game, I was like, ‘That’s really fun. That’s what I want to be. I want to be that quarterback to lead the team.”

Caleb has a back-up plan if pro football doesn’t work out.

He said he’d go into the ministry, just like his father.

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