BIG HORN — A Big Horn High School football player is recovering well after leaving the 1A football state championship Nov. 10 on a stretcher.
Jon Cunningham sustained a grade 3 concussion after colliding with a teammate while trying to make a tackle early in the fourth quarter of Big Horn’s 56-3 victory over Cokeville. He was knocked unconscious and lay on the ground for several minutes before being carried off the field on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie. Cunningham stayed there overnight and went home the following afternoon.
Cunningham, a senior, returned to school Monday after missing all of last week to recover. He is still sensitive to loud sound and gets occasional headaches but otherwise said he feels fine.
However, Cunningham said he can’t recall anything from the day of the championship game, neither on or off the field.
“The thought of not being able to remember my last game kind of puts me down a little bit,” Cunningham said. “… I wasn’t there with my team at the end of the game, so it’s hard for me.”
Big Horn head coach Kirk McLaughlin expressed his support for his injured player after winning the championship.
“My heart goes out to Jon Cunningham, who had to leave his last football game on a stretcher instead of (being) out here celebrating under the jumbotron like he deserves,” McLaughlin said after the game.
Cunningham also said it was an odd feeling to wake up in a hospital and have many people describe what happened to him on the field.
“It was a lot to think about, a lot to process,” Cunningham said. “I don’t know, it was just difficult. Everybody kind of kept telling me over and over and over what happened.”
Teammates Seth Mullinax and Kyler Ostler visited Cunningham Sunday morning in the hospital, which lifted his spirits a bit.
Moreover, while Cunningham was being attended to on the field, his mother told the Big Horn players to keep fighting.
“It was pretty sad,” Big Horn’s Kade Eisele said. “His mom came over to us (players) who were taking a knee and said, ‘Go finish it,’ and just wanted us to play for him and so we kept it in the back of our minds the rest of the game and got it done for him.”
Eisele said his 79-yard touchdown run a few plays after the injury was in honor of Cunningham.
This year carried extra weight for Cunningham. His father died a few years ago and Cunningham promised his father that he would play for the Rams as a senior and graduate from BHHS.
“Those were my two promises to him, so I wasn’t going to break my promises to my dad,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham mainly played special teams for the Rams this season but also spent time at linebacker and fullback. He totaled 18 tackles on the year, including two tackles for loss and two passes defended.
He also tallied two total touchdowns. Both of those scores came in the third quarter at Greybull in the third game of the season during the Rams’ 39-7 victory. Cunningham had a 6-yard touchdown catch and 3-yard TD run a few minutes apart.
Cunningham said the game against Greybull was one of his personal highlights of the season, along with Big Horn’s victory at Tongue River when he made several tackles on special teams.
Cunningham played nearly every snap on punt and kick returns throughout the season, either blocking for teammates or flying down the sidelines and wrapping up the opposing returner.
“Even though I’m not the fastest kid, I was one of the first people down there and it’s because I gave it my all,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham has attended Big Horn schools since kindergarten except for last year. He moved to Ohio for his junior year before returning to Wyoming.
He said the lengthy history between most of the players led to excellent team chemistry all year.
“All the teammates are very helpful and we all really worked together,” Cunningham said. “I’d say that’s why we had such a great season.”
Despite the unfortunate end to his season, Cunningham said it felt superb to be part of a successful, exciting group all season.
“There’s like a big energy bubble that’s around the whole team, and it keeps us all going and motivated,” Cunningham said. “It’s just a great atmosphere to be in … When you’re in a sport like football, everything’s just go, go, go, and it feels nice.”
Cunningham recently fulfilled the first promise to his father and ended his career with a state championship.
With a severe injury mostly behind him, Cunningham will now work toward completing the second promise — graduating in May.