ZEPHYRHILLS — Mike Davis was home on leave Saturday when the text message came.
It was about his friend and former Zephyrhills High School classmate Tyler "TJ" Jeffries. The two had played baseball for the Bulldogs. After graduating in 2007, both ended up in the Army.
Jeffries, 23, an infantryman who had been serving in Afghanistan, had stepped on an improvised explosive device, known as an IED. "They told me his legs got blown off," Davis said.
Just a couple of months ago, his unit was in the same area doing the same thing.
"His unit replaced my unit," said Davis, a private first class and a member of the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, N.C. "We're both out there doing foot patrol. We don't have the safety of an armored vehicle."
Davis said he feared for his friend, a member of the 2-1 Attack Company and stationed out of Fort Lewis, Wash. The two had recently connected on Facebook and talked about visiting.
"I knew the area," he said. "I knew how bad it was out there."
Jeffries' father, Ted, said his son was clearing an area before the squad moved forward when the IED exploded.
"It was a command detonated device," he said. "Somebody had to watch him go on top of it or close enough to it."
Two sergeants stanched the blood with tourniquets and got him to a more secure area so a helicopter could rush him to a field hospital.
"Those two sergeants literally saved his life," Ted Jeffries said. "Everybody in his unit, they were Johnny on the spot. It's a credit to them and their training."
TJ Jeffries was taken to Germany, where doctors performed surgery on Sunday. He had to be stabilized several times before reaching Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md, on Tuesday night.
"He was in really bad shape," his father said.
On Wednesday, he had more surgery at Walter Reed.
His family rushed to Maryland to be at his side.
"Just let him live," Ted Jeffries prayed on the plane trip. "Just let him be okay. Just let me see him one more time."
When he arrived, Ted Jeffries and the rest of the family huddled together in a hotel room and prayed some more. TJ's mother, Pamela Britt of North Carolina, had arrived a day earlier and had been able to be with their son as he was taken off the flight and into the hospital.
Word spread quickly through the small town of Zephyrhills, where TJ Jeffries had played first base and baffled batters with his nasty curve ball and 87 mph fastball.
"Thank you for your service Tyler Jeffries" read the message on the Zephyrhills High marquee.
Principal Steve Van Gorden said students were sending cards, and the school planned to send a care package of Bulldog shirts, caps and other items.
"This is still a small community," said Bruce Cimorelli, the school's athletic director, who coached Jeffries while in high school. "A lot of people still remember him."
He described the Jeffries family as "good people" and said TJ Jeffries was always smiling.
"All the kids really liked him a lot," he said.
Ted Jeffries said his son has talked "a little bit" about his injuries but has remained mostly upbeat.
"The loss of any limb would be traumatic," he said. "He's had little up and down moments, but he's got a smile on his face and he's glad to have family here."
A Facebook page, Supporting Tyler Jeffries, listed 2,942 "likes" by Thursday afternoon.
Posts said his wounds were such that they needed to be cleaned only every other day as opposed to daily.
For dinner Wednesday, he ate a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, fries and ranch dressing.
For breakfast, he ate hash browns and a cinnamon roll. He also drank three Mountain Dews.
"He hasn't had them in a long time and he knows he likes them, but he's been in the desert so long that water's tasting real good to him right now," his father said.
By Thursday afternoon, he had improved enough to move out of the intensive care unit. His recovery could take up to a year.
Jeffries' former classmate, Davis, said he's still shaken by his friend's injuries but he's trying to see things positively. He said he's proud of Jeffries, who made a "huge sacrifice" to protect America's freedoms.
"He's still with us. He's still alive, and he's still able to enjoy a Mountain Dew."
But Davis, who returns to duty on Saturday, also realizes it just as easily could happen to him.
"It's a crazy feeling," Davis said. "Every single day you go out on patrol and you don't know if you are coming back or not. It really does put you on another level. You appreciate things you've got, who's in your life."