SHERIDAN, Wyo. — Catching a football was unimaginable for Kyler Mines four months ago as he was lying motionless and on life support inside the Denver Children’s Hospital.
Mines had been emergency air-lifted there by life flight after suffering a severe brain injury while playing a Tuesday JV football game in September for the Sheridan Broncs.
“He got a touchdown, he played the entire game," his grandmother Mary Dailey-Smith recalled to MTN Sports at the time, seated outside of Kyler's hospital room. "It wasn’t until after the game he started feeling poorly."
Whether Kyler would live — let alone make it home — was a drastic unknown. Then just last month, barely in time for Christmas, doctors cleared Kyler's return to Sheridan.
As several anxious friends and family members watched through airport windows, Chelsey Mines slowly helped her son down an outdoor ramp exiting a United Airlines flight. Following hugs and handshakes, Kyler, with a beaming grin, was escorted off in a limo.
Friends slowly began stopping by the family's house, eventually for a Dr. Pepper party.
“Because Dr. Pepper is my favorite drink,” Kyler softly told MTN Sports last week smiling from his couch.
Sheridan head football coach Jeff Mowry was one of the first to greet Kyler and his family at the airport and visit them at home. After all, Mowry had driven to Denver multiple times for hospital visits, including early while life support tubes were connected to much of Kyler's upper body.
Less than a mile from the field where Kyler’s accident happened sits the Sheridan Memorial Hospital emergency room where he was first diagnosed. Upstairs on the second floor — and just a few halls away — is where Kyler is now cruising through rehabilitation.
Tiffany Sutton is his doctorate-holding physical therapist.
“Some day you’re going to want to drive, right?" Sutton asks the sophomore during an exercise. "Are you color blind?"
"No," replies Mines.
"OK, what color do we have?" Sutton asks holding up a flash card-like paper with the color red. "Stop sign," replies Kyler, nailing the answer.
Mines is progressing quicker than his therapists expected.
"Oh, yeah. Way quicker," Sutton said. "When we were doing our stuff today, I didn’t expect him to be jogging when I said, ‘Go fast.’
“Some kids are like, 'No, it hurts. I can’t — I need a rest break,' she continued, " ... and Kyler is like, 'Let’s go, let’s go.' And I’m like, no, TV timeout. Lay down, rest a minute, close your eyes. We’ll have better results if you rest.”
Short naps, even at therapy, are common for Kyler. But he is physically ahead of the curve and very aware cognitively.
“They have me walking, doing hands and knees stuff, and playing games,” he explains.
Aside from physical and occupational therapy, Kyler also navigates speech therapy which is far more demanding than simply pronouncing letters correctly.
“Absolutely," confirmed his speech therapist Amanda Kirlin. "The big three umbrellas that we do in speech therapy are swallow dysfunction, communicating — actually speech sounds — and formulating sentences, understanding sentences, problem solving.”
On a notepad, Kirlin writes out a daily list for Kyler who starts his session by reading it aloud before progressing into problem solving exercises.
His long-term memory seems to be sharp, aside from the accident itself.
“There’s a period of his brain that doesn’t remember the game ... that school day,” Chelsey said.
His personality has noticeably changed from stoic to almost comedic.
“Yeah, (he was) very focused beforehand," Mowry recalled. "Very focused. He’d come into the weight room and look at what our workout was that day and go right to work. He did his best at it.
"But you see him smiling and giggling quite a bit more (now).”
You also see him gingerly walking and slowly talking at home, happy to show off his bedroom with all the fantastic sports memorabilia gifts he's received. His favorite team, the Denver Broncos, sent him a custom autographed jersey with "Mines" stitched to the back. Among other suprises, one of the NFL’s top linebackers and Wyoming native Logan Wilson of the Cincinnati Bengals, signed and sent a pair of game-worn cleats.
“It’s just been crazy phenomenal how supportive everybody has been asking about Kyler and how he’s doing," said Dailey-Smith. "Anybody I run into, they’re like, 'How’s your boy?' It’s been amazing and I want to thank the community for everything that they’ve done for us so far.”
Kyler’s therapists agree he’s on target for a mostly full — if not complete — recovery. Though they admit it may take a year or more.
Tuesday at Sheridan High School offered another goal accomplished ahead of schedule. Kyler's hope was to surprise classmates by entering without the help of a wheelchair. To play it safe, he did walk in, though pushing the wheelchair instead of sitting in it.
His family and school officials now plan to ease Kyler back into a limited classroom routine.
“It’s magic to see him be so determined and really set goals and achieve them,” Chelsey said.
Tuesday's school scene was one not many pictured when another picture was taken just a few months ago of Kyler connected to life support in Denver.
“We didn’t even know if we were going to take him home, so this… this is amazing,” Chelsey said.