Jimmy Yarde may not get a ton of playing time for the Husson University Eagles in their ECAC Northeast championship game against St. John Fisher (N.Y.) today at noon in Bangor.
But the fact he is even playing football is a credit to him, his perseverance and his love of the game.
On a late July night in 2005, Yarde and three of his friends from East Boston, Mass. were paying their respects to slain former teammate Eric Perkins by visiting the site in Mattapan where Perkins was fatally shot the day before.
Based on published reports, one of the friends, Damaine Brown, a Bridgton Academy graduate, noticed a bunch of young men hanging out on a nearby porch and sensed danger. He suggested they return to the car and leave.
But after they climbed into the car, a man on a bike rode over to them and fatally shot Brown and put another bullet in Yarde’s leg.
Yarde had also sensed the danger.
“There was a vibe. You could feel it in the air. Something wasn’t right,” said Yarde. “When it happens, you don’t realize the pain, especially in a situation like that. I didn’t feel anything at first, just the heat. I didn’t realize [I had been shot] until I tried to move. My leg wouldn’t move so I knew it was broken at that point.”
Yarde said the bullet “hit the femur bone and fractured it, dislocated my knee and popped my hip out.”
The four boys drove away and called 911.
Brown and Yarde were taken to Brigham and Women’s Hospital where Brown was pronounced dead and Yarde underwent surgery.
Yarde came to Husson in the fall on crutches. He would spend eight months on them.
He talked to a lot of people about his ordeal and Yarde was advised to dig down deep and overcome it.
“They told me ‘You’re a young man. You can bounce back.’ But there were times I never thought I’d play football again. And there was a time I didn’t know if I’d ever walk straight again,” said Yarde.
Yarde underwent physical therapy his freshman year but said “he couldn’t sleep” due to nightmares from the shooting.
His studies suffered and he was dismissed from school due to academic difficulties and missed the fall semester in 2006. However, he took summer courses and applied for reinstatement and was granted it for the spring semester.
Through it all, he never stopped rehabilitating his leg.
“It has taken a lot of hard work. It seems like it takes forever to get back from an injury like this,” said Yarde.
“He had to learn to walk again,” said Husson trainer Janine Gmitter, who spent a great deal of time helping him rehabilitate his leg.
Gmitter said Yarde never missed his workouts and “was always in good spirits. He wanted to be with the team and that’s what gave him the drive to get better, come back and play. He also worked hard on his own over the summer.”
Yarde admits there were plenty of frustrating days but he simply couldn’t come to grips with his football career reaching a premature end.
“I told myself [my career] couldn’t be over. It had never really gotten started. I began rehab when I was 19. I had to have another shot,” said Yarde.
“I love football. I wanted to be part of something good, something positive,” added Yarde.
Yarde had a wide-ranging support group including his teammates, coaches, Gmitter, team doctor D. Thompson McGuire and his doctors in Boston.
That support group includes his best friend and former high school teammate: Husson star running back Julius Williams.
“Julius was good. He helped me a lot. And the coaches have been like family to me,” said Yarde. “They’re very understanding people. I can always talk to them.”
Williams called Yarde’s comeback “a great story.
“When it happened, I was in Orlando and I felt bad for him,” said Williams. “But for him to come back here, be strong and still be able to play, that’s great to see. I’m happy for him.”
“He’s a big inspiration to the team,” said junior right tackle Jon Benson. “It must have been hard for him but we’re glad he’s out here. He’s a very good teammate. He’s a very nice guy who has a good attitude about everything.”
“He’s an inspiration to anybody who speaks to him,” said Husson coach Gabby Price. “It’s an unbelievable story.”
When Yarde took the field for the first time last fall, it was a very special moment.
“It felt good to suit up. I felt like I accomplished something,” said Yarde.
He has elevated himself into the backup left guard slot this season and he is also on special teams.
He said he doesn’t have any pain in his leg but he will never forget the night he nearly lost his life and his friend did.
“Something like that you can never block out,” said the 6-foot-1, 275-pound Yarde. “I think about it time to time.”
He has adapted to living in Maine, saying “it’s peaceful up here.”
He is “very excited” about today’s playoff game.
“The last time I played in a game like this was in high school. We [East Boston High School] won the state championship in ’04,” recalled Yarde, an outstanding two-way lineman at East Boston.
East Boston beat North Shore 28-22 for the Division 3A state championship.
“He is pretty amazing,” said Gmitter. “It has been pretty remarkable. He has come out of his shell and been a great addition to the team. I’m glad he stuck with it.”