When Tyler Jensen steps into the batter's box, runs to first base or dives for a ball hit to center field he seems like any healthy high school athlete.
What separates him from the average teen is that just seven months ago he was fighting for his life after suffering a serious head injury in a playoff game while playing for the Brainerd Warriors football team.
Jensen was airlifted to the Twin Cities where he underwent emergency surgery on his skull. Obviously, the injury's severity forced him to miss the rest of Brainerd's run to the state football semifinals and kept him off the wrestling mat, where through his junior year he had compiled the second-most victories in program history.
Brainerd High School senior Tyler Jensen, who suffered a serious head injury in a playoff football game last fall, was presented with the first courage award from the Twin Cities Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.
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The fact Jensen is playing for the Warriors baseball team this spring, minus noticeable side effects, is nothing short of miraculous.
His recovery has touched many, including the Twin Cities Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, which presented Jensen with its courage award last weekend at the University of St. Thomas.
"When I got there I didn't know what to expect," Jensen said. "There were probably about 100 people in the room. There were like eight ex-NFL players. I really felt honored to be in a room with those people. I was sitting at the same table as Bobby Bell, who played for the Kansas City Chiefs."
Jensen was introduced by Warriors assistant football coach Jeff Ramey and received a Heisman Trophy-size award.
"Being in the same room with all those people was really an honor," he said. "Coach Ramey gave a really good speech about me. It was a great experience."
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Warriors head coach Ron Stolski, a charter member of the Twin Cities chapter, nominated Jensen. Stolski said the committee and others agreed that Jensen was a natural to receive the first award.
"It's quite an honor for Tyler to be the first to be named for the courage award," Stolski said. "His story is not necessarily unique. What's more incredible is his recovery and his behavior following. That touched the committee that made the selection, his inspiring story. They got a hold of that and said, 'This is the guy.'
"It was very easy to write about a boy like Tyler. His story is so inspirational. It was a great night for his parents and a great night for him."
The first week of March, Jensen showed how his recovery has progressed, winning the Sunrise Sertoma Liftathon with the top boys' Most Pounds Per Ounce rating of 5.62. Competing at 145 pounds he bench-pressed 205, power-cleaned 230 and had a parallel squat of 380.
"I just wanted to prove to myself that I could still compete," Jensen said. "It reassured me that I still had it in me after being hurt. I used it as substitute for not being able to compete in the winter.
"Basically, my lifts were about the same as everything I did before I got hurt, about what I could do in football.
"It seems that everything is almost as good as it was before. I have no memory loss or loss of cognitive skills. I'm very fortunate. You can't tell what happened to me. If you look at me you can't see (the scars) unless you look closely."
On the baseball diamond, Jensen is showing no aftereffects. Through seven games he was hitting .381, second among Warrior starters and had struck out just twice.
"It's been fun getting to compete again," he said. "It's been great. It kind of takes my mind off of everything. Baseball helps me forget about all that and have a chance run to around the field."
He also shows no aftereffects in the classroom. With a 4.176 grade-point average he ranks fourth in a class of 528 seniors. His tentative plan is to attend the University of Minnesota next year and possibly pursue a career in biology or pre-med.
Gophers football coach Tim Brewster was the featured speaker at last week's awards dinner. In his remarks, Brewster said he wanted Jensen to be a member of the team.
"Obviously, I can't play for the Gophers but maybe I could do something, like be a manager for the team," he said. "I haven't decided completely but I would like to get in touch with Brewster and see what he had in mind. It would be fun to travel with the team, go to big stadiums like Michigan and all the other Big Ten teams.
"I would just like to say thank you for all the support I've had in the community, from friends and family. They made it easy to recover and get back to the way things were."
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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