Plant offensive lineman Richy Klepal, one of the area’s top recruits, announced Thursday night that he was ending his football career because of head injuries caused by multiple concussions.
Klepal, a Florida State commit, told his teammates at practice earlier in the afternoon that doctors strongly advised him to stop playing because of the threat of a potentially fatal injury.
“It really wasn’t a choice,” Klepal said. “Never in a million years would I just walk away from it.”
Klepal said Florida State’s coaches have told him they will honor their scholarship offer.
The news is significant because it comes at a time when football at all levels has had to face questions and concerns about how best to deal with concussions and subsequent head trauma. More than 2,400 former NFL players are suing the league for billions of dollars for allegedly withholding information about the link between football-related head trauma and permanent brain injuries.
But few players of Klepal’s age or stature have faced a similar dilemma: walk away or risk further serious head injury?
The first hint something was amiss came a couple weeks ago when he missed a Sept. 7 game against nationally ranked John Curtis Christian after sustaining a concussion during practice that week.
Klepal also sat out the next week’s game against Jefferson. This week, Plant coach Robert Weiner was optimistic Klepal would return to the field following a final doctor’s appointment.
It was during that meeting with doctors, Klepal said, that he learned playing football would prove too dangerous for his future health.
Klepal said a recent MRI exam revealed a hemorrhage near the back of his head and bleeding in several spots on his brain. Doctors told Klepal that if he returned to the field and sustained another head injury, he could possibly die immediately.
“If I chose not to get that MRI and started playing again, I could be dead,” he said. “I’m trying my best to find a silver lining. I’m still living and breathing.”
After spending time to come to grips with the premature end of his career, Klepal decided to go out to practice Thursday and tell his teammates. Weiner said Klepal stood next to him for a few minutes, struggling to speak through his grief, then addressed teammates a few minutes later.
“He told them what they meant to him,” Weiner said. “It was some real man stuff.”
A 6-foot-4, 285-pound offensive tackle, Klepal has played on Plant’s varsity since he was a freshman. Most recruiting services rated him among the nation’s top 20 prospects on the offensive line. Klepal received offers from USC, Georgia and Miami among others.
He announced his oral commitment to Florida State in July.
Klepal said he plans to go to Tallahassee next fall but with a new plan, maybe even get involved in coaching.
“I haven’t really come to peace with it yet,” he said. “But I’ve got to take a good, honest look at it. The most important thing is I still have my health and an opportunity to get an education.”
Klepal also said he planned to continue to support his teammates in their run to repeat as Class 8A state champion.
“Those were kids I love and laid it all on the line for,” he said. “I still want to be a part of Plant.”