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Against all odds: Zimmerman grad Mceachern overcomes injuries, internal struggles to become college athlete
Taylor Mceachern suddenly stands up from the swivel chair inside the Star News conference room and leapfrogs into position. He bends down and squats, his legs nearly touching the ground and his arms pointing forward.
“I’m finally 100 percent healthy,” he says, shaking his head but grinning. “It’s the first time in five years where I can bend down in a squat like this.”
For most college-bound athletes, doing a squat wouldn’t be notable, but for Mceachern, it symbolizes stability and serendipity at the end of an injury-filled career as a three-sport athlete at Zimmerman High.
Mceachern injured his right knee twice and his left ankle three times from eighth grade through 12th. While the friends he grew up with flourished in football, basketball and baseball, he spiraled in and out of sports and spent far more time in hospitals and in his bed, crying, than he ever thought possible.
But he never gave up and never surrendered the dream he had since he was a kid of playing a sport in college. Mceachern earned and lost football and basketball offers to colleges as coaches questioned whether his health would hold up.
This February, though, in a fortuitous twist that even he considers astonishing, Mceachern was given another chance. He lost himself and was almost out of options, but he did what many kids his age would do: He turned to the internet.
Mceachern searched on Wikipedia for schools in warm states, such as California, Florida and North Carolina. He sent more than 50 emails to coaches and barely heard back, but one day he got a response from a small Division II school in North Carolina called Belmont Abbey College.
The interest was mutual, and Mceachern will play baseball for the Crusaders next year. He had never been on a plane before flying down there to visit and was immediately mesmerized by the campus. His fleeting dream of playing a college sport disappeared momentarily, but then it resurfaced suddenly, and now he’ll be the first member of his immediate family to go to school.
“It took a lot of motivation out of me and it stressed the hell out of me, but I had never had a drive like that before,” Mceachern said. “I always felt like I needed to prove to everyone that I could come back from all this. I wasn’t going to be that washed-up player. I was still going to be great.”
Odell in the making
As a kid, Mceachern and his father had a deal. If Taylor won a game of P-I-G on the small hoop inside their house, he got to stay up late and watch “Little House on the Prairie” with his pops. If he lost, he had to go to bed.
Other nights, Casey Mceachern sat in a rocking chair at the end of a long hallway inside the Mceachern home. Casey threw a football over Taylor’s shoulder, and Taylor would have to run directly toward a wall to complete the breadbasket, Willie Mays-like catch. Sometimes he smashed into the wall and missed the ball, but he was always ready for the next one.
With three younger siblings in the house, Mceachern emerged as both a natural leader and an athlete oozing with potential in just about anything he tried. He dabbled in softball and hockey, but eventually settled on football, basketball and baseball as he entered eighth grade.
He was eager to finally start high school, but before he did, the first of five injuries came his way like a hurricane that never slowed down.
‘Setback after setback’
Mceachern went to cut in football against Big Lake in a championship game, just like he did every other play. This time, though, an opponent speared him in his right knee, where he still has multiple conspicuous scars today.
Mceachern suffered an osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) lesion. He had to watch as his teammates competed in a national tournament in Tennessee weeks later – a gut-wrenching feeling of seclusion that became far too familiar over the next five years.
The injury required surgery, which involved drilling holes in his knee to get his blood flowing normally. Doctors told him he was completely healthy weeks after the surgery, so he played on it in basketball freshman year, but it started bothering him again. They told him the surgery failed.
“It was tough to watch him go through it,” former Zimmerman head basketball coach Ben Kvidt said. “You knew how bad he wanted to be out on the floor and helping his teammates. It was just setback after setback.”
Young Frankenstein and The Incredible Hulk
Heading into sophomore year, his knee still bothered him, and doctors discovered he had a complete hairline fracture throughout most of his freshman year. The bone consistently deteriorated and the fracture turned into a complete break.
He desperately yearned to play varsity football as a sophomore, so he stayed on the field despite the pain. Mceachern wobbled when he jogged, teetering from side to side like a pendulum as he favored his left leg and tried not to crumble to the field.
“I always used to get made fun of,” he said “I looked like Frankenstein running.”
He started becoming more used to the pain and it only bothered him when he stepped on it wrong. Admirers and skeptics alike asked him how and why he continued to play, and he just thought about those over-the-shoulder catches in his hallway as a kid. He loved the game too much, and he knew he could manage the pain.
After basketball season, Mceachern decided to have surgery and skip baseball season. At that point, he didn’t consider baseball to be part of his future. He figured resting up for football and basketball would be beneficial in both the short term and long term.
During the recovery process, Mceachern put on 25 pounds of muscle – all in his upper body. He went from a relatively lean athlete to a tall, ripped one with the muscle he needed to shine at the varsity level. Because he couldn’t put much weight on his right leg, he focused on what he could control.
“I felt like a little miniature Hulk,” he said. “My legs were little chicken legs.”
He and three friends – they called themselves “The Quad” went to the weight room every morning from 6:30 to 9:30. They’d lift together, and when the other three went outside to run, Mceachern stayed inside and kept lifting.
Football and basketball offers started to trickle in, and Mceachern, a junior, was ready in time for football two-a-days. Division III schools, junior colleges National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics basketball schools reached out, and Northern State, Mankato State and Minnesota State University Moorhead all contacted Mceachern for football.
Suddenly, with his knee problems behind him – for the time being – the future seemed brighter than ever. He had a chance to choose which sport he played in college and he dominated his junior year.
“Everyone doubted me,” Mceachern said. “My coaches told me they didn’t think I’d be back. My doctor said they didn’t think I’d be back. That pushed me a lot, and I really had the drive. I had that mentality that I was coming back and I was going to do this.”
Baseball might be a key
It became known as the “Odell Beckham catch.”
In the Thunder’s homecoming game Mceachern’s junior year, he caught a ball thrown well over his head that he had no business snagging. On 4th and 21 in the final seconds, Mceachern extended his right arm and made a stunning catch that sent his teammates into a frenzy and gave Zimmerman the win.
He calls that year his breakout year as a football player, and he followed that season up with a strong year on the court. Finally, things were going his way. Maybe this was the start of sustained good health.
When Mceachern’s junior baseball season came – his first since freshman year – he didn’t take long to get readjusted. He crushed a home run on the first pitch he saw and followed that up with another blast on the first pitch of the next at-bat.
“It was like, ‘Oh my gosh. Is this actually happening?’ I realized baseball might be a key for me here. My dad always told me, football’s your sport, basketball’s your sport, but don’t forget about baseball. I never really believed him.”
Hitting a wall
Mceachern is relentless when he plays sports. He motors around like the Tasmanian Devil, spinning in circles, outworking and out-hustling his opponents. His dizzying style of play, along with his stature, makes him stand out, but it also puts him naturally more at risk than most other players.
He knows that, but he’s learned to not let his past limit how he plays. He reminds himself now that his next injury would have happened whether he was playing hard or not. He went out to block during football team camp, planted and broke his left foot.
The injury was totally unrelated to his right knee troubles, but it sent him into even more of a downward trajectory outside of sports. Those three football schools eventually revoked their offers because they thought he was too much of a liability injury-wise.
“I was like, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Mceachern said. “Why is this happening to me? I just hit a wall. I was dead set on playing football. That took a lot out of me. I sat in my bed crying. I was crying to my parents. I didn’t even want to wake up to go to football practice. It hurt me so bad.”
He and the 11 other seniors on the roster had eagerly awaited this opportunity since second grade, and now he was deprived of that chance. Mceachern got a boot on his foot. Doctors told him it was a hairline fracture, but they misdiagnosed it initially and it turned out to be a Jones fracture, which is far more significant.
Mceachern got his boot off in time to play Becker in front of a packed stadium. He ran a drag route on 4th and 3 and caught the pass, but when he turned to extend the play, he rebroke his foot. He knew right away it was broken, and his paw was so swollen he could barely take his cleat off.
Doctors recommended he get surgery, but he decided to put it off and finish his senior year on a broken foot. He taped up the entire outside of his cleat before every game, using an entire roll of tape to make sure it stayed stationary.
“That was so painful,” he said. “Every step I took, it felt like a dagger was going right into my foot.”
Identity taken away
Eventually, Mceachern knew he had to stop putting himself through such perpetual misery.
He went into basketball season with the decision made that if he suffered one more injury he would sit out the remainder of the season and rest up for baseball. The senior Mceachern sparked Zimmerman to a win at Target Center, doing most of his damage inside and at the free-throw line in the final minutes.
It brought him back to the old days – before all these injuries happened – when he, Division I-bound Tre Jones and the rest of their Amateur Athletic Union teammates dazzled at Target Center.
The excitement, as usual, was short-lived, as he injured his ankle the next game.
At that point, because of everything that led up to this injury, he lost all motivation. More than he ever had before. He hit a new low and didn’t feel like he fit in with his teammates. The zest he had for sports, and life in general, disappeared. He wondered what the point of battling back was when he just kept getting injured.
“Seeing Taylor go through those things, as his father, was very hard for me,” Casey Mceachern said. “We’d see lots of withdrawal, and his identity was taken away. We were really proud of how he’d get up and force himself to still go do things. I lost my sister about 10 years ago in a car crash. It wasn’t to that extent, but as a father I just felt so bad for him.”
Worth the suffering
Mceachern started to get in better spirits as baseball rolled around, and he first contacted Belmont Abbey in February. He was incredulous when he first visited the campus. He couldn’t believe they still wanted him after all he’d been through.
His siblings served as constant motivators. He wants freshman Carter, sixth grader Payton and third grader Thomas to be even better athletes than he is. He wants to show them it’s possible to leave the state and achieve your dreams.
Even when you want to give up, don’t, he says. You never know where life will take you. The agony he experienced, the physical pain he consistently found himself in, the isolation, the setbacks, the decrease in motivation – those things all brought him to this point. Without all of that suffering, this triumph wouldn’t be nearly as sweet.
He’s truly stunned he has another chance. Now he knows it’s time to make sure this new journey turns out the way he wants it to. Mceachern is ready for a change, for a new beginning. Wikipedia made it possible. So did his relentlessness and perseverance.
“All those injuries, it took a lot out of me,” Mceachern said. “I felt secluded and unwanted. I couldn’t connect with anyone. Now this whole thing has taken place, and it’s amazing. I’ve been through this, this, this and this, and I came out stronger. That’s the story I want to tell.”
What We Do
The Zimmerman Booster Club would like to thank the many volunteers currently involved, now and from the past. It takes many volunteers coming together to make a difference.
As a Booster Club we are interested in any ideas you may have to better our student’s experiences here at Zimmerman middle school and high school.
Getting involved in your school through the Booster Club is fun and a great way to meet other adults and faculty. We are always looking for people to help with ideas and the planning of Booster Club activities. Everything we do benefits the students of our school and community. We support our Academics, Arts and Athletics. Come check out what we are up to!
Booster Club meetings are always the 2nd Monday of each month, except when there is no school that day. Then it will be the following Monday. Meetings are at 7:00 in the ZHS media center. Please Come and Check It Out!
We are always interested in your thoughts, please come to any meeting and help make a difference.
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