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Tragic accident has happy ending

Sergio Jaramillo was charging head first through his soccer career when he suddenly cracked skulls with another player and nearly died.

The collision happened last December, but the memory still hurt Friday during a Tampa Bay Cyclones practice.

"It was a simple header, something I had done many, many times," Jaramillo said. "But his head hit my temple and I was knocked out."

Blood seeped from his mouth and nose, and his pupils rolled up in his skull. Paramedics soon loaded him onto a stretcher, unable to know how fast the blood clot grew next to his brain.

Doctors drained the clot at the hospital, but for a while it was very scary. For days, Jaramillo couldn't talk, let alone walk.

"It was a long, long recovery," Jaramillo said. "Physically I went down to zero. I became very weak because I wasn't able to work out. Mentally I wanted to come along slowly."

He periodically shook his head during the description of what it was like to be 100 percent at one moment and near death the next.

Cyclone teammates Mike Heald and Tim Geltz were with Jaramillo that tragic day during the Major League Soccer tryouts at Pepin/Rood Stadium. They said every one of the 380 players at the camp walked around stunned for a while.

"It's a one-in-a-million chance that something that severe happens on the soccer field," said Geltz, who played for the University of South Florida. "You see something like that and it sucks the wind right out of you."

"I came running down the field when I saw he wasn't getting up," said Heald, who played with Jaramillo at the University of Tampa. "I felt sick. Sergio is one of my friends."

Heald and Geltz talked about the accident as they watched Jaramillo, 22, run through practice just as he did as an all-state player for Hillsborough High and a key member for UT's 1994 national Division II title team.

"He's 100 percent," Geltz said, pointing. "Look at him."

After his first three games the past two weeks, Jaramillo has a goal and an assist and the Cyclones have gone 3-0.

"We can be a better team with Jaramillo because of his excellent technique and dynamics," Cyclones coach Jose Iber Gruesso. "I think he's been playing a little careful since the injury, but he's gradually getting more aggressive.

"He definitely is helping us."

The hope is he can help continue the victory string through the season's final five games, including tonight's final home match at 6 p.m. against the Florida Strikers at USF Soccer Stadium.

The Cyclones rank third in the South Atlantic Division with an 11-8 record and are looking for their fifth straight victory.

"It is very important to me to have an impact," Jaramillo said. "As I was rehabilitating I said the only way I was coming back is if I could make an impact.

"I may think about the injury a little at practice because I don't want to risk injury unless it's worth it. But during a game I don't think about it. I don't hold back in games."

For the moment, soccer is Jaramillo's focus, but in the long run he said he wants to be a doctor.

"Right now I'm not shutting any doors," he said. "It just feels good to be playing soccer again. It feels very, very good."