FLORENCE — Florence's Kyler Alm always knew he wanted to return to the football field despite suffering a subdural hematoma in last year's regular season finale against Loyola Sacred Heart.
Alm was medically cleared to play football again after healing from the serious injury — a life-threatening condition often brought on by blunt force trauma where blood collects in the skull and puts pressure on the brain — but it was hard to remove from his mind the risk of a repeat accident and what it might mean.
Still, Alm wasn't ready yet to say goodbye to the sport he loved headed into his senior season. In a way, he's still not ready to let go of the game, but on Monday one of the Falcons' captains made the choice to do just that.
"As much as I’d like to still be out there, it was just time," said Alm, who played in Florence's first two games of the 2019 season before making the call. "It was the toughest decision I’ve had to make in my 18 years of being alive. You have to give up some things to gain some things. One of these things I’m gaining is my whole life."
In a Facebook post, Alm thanked his teammates and coaches for everything they — and the game of football — have helped him learn. Alm cited his health and life as, "being more important" than playing football.
That's something that seemed unfathomable to Alm as recently as a year ago.
"It's the right decision to make sure my health is what's important (and) as much as I'd like to keep playing, the time is right and it's time to hang up my cleats," Alm's Facebook post read.
Alm was literally hit with the realization last week in Florence's 54-14 loss to No. 3 ranked Manhattan.
"I took one big hit, but it just scared me more than anything," said Alm, who was uninjured on the play. "Getting up and coming over to the sidelines I took off my helmet and my eyes were wide open and just right then I wasn’t having fun anymore."
Alm, whose high-flying style of play at linebacker tests the limits of his listed 5-foot-6, 185-pound body, just couldn't shake the notion that he may be one big blow away from a major setback. It was in the back of his mind most plays against Manhattan and in No. 9 Florence's Week 1 win, 28-15, against Jefferson at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula.
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His biggest strength, in Alm's words, came from his ability to leave everything on the field. He was a bulldog, someone who would fight to the finish — and maybe longer — no matter the odds.
"This game you get 48 minutes to play and I’m gonna give 60 minutes of effort. I’m going to leave everything out there," Alm said. "Looking back at last year, I was playing at a high level I think, but this year when I came out, it wasn’t the same feel. I wasn’t making the explosive big plays that I usually do; I was missing tackles."
Coach Pat Duchien, who has been hyper-vigilant in protecting his team against head injuries, could even see some hesitation in Alm during the Manhattan game.
"He didn’t take any shots to the head that were in a high-manner on our alert system, but you could tell he was playing a little timid," said an understanding Duchien, referring to the InSite Riddell helmets several Florence players wear that are equipped with technology to monitor impact. "...It’s a psychological struggle as to how quick you’re going to be able to get over that. In Kyler’s case I think him probably stepping away from the sport is probably the right decision."
That didn't make the decision easy, though. While Alm had support from both coaches and teammates alike, his Monday lunchtime meeting to make his announcement to the team was tough.
"It was heartbreaking," Alm said. "Most of the guys were in there and I got up in front of the room and my emotions started running. It was hard getting out the words telling them I was done."
Football builds community, relies on teamwork and teaches sacrifice of self for others. These are valuable life lessons, ones that seem to manifest themselves more deeply in football. But how far should someone go while learning them? It's something Alm, a consummate team player who still supports his football team and the sport he loves, had to ask himself.
Making that decision, given the 18-year-old's injury history, took a unique type of bravery.
"I've got a lot of life left to live. This weekend was the first weekend I got to go hunting with my dad for a couple years because of his health, too," Alm said. "I want to spend as much time as I can with him and my family because you don’t get these days back."