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A Night to Remember

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A Night to Remember

John Michael Night with the Mercer Lacrosse team.

John Michael Night with the Mercer Lacrosse team.

Courtesy of Vickie Night

John Michael Night with the Mercer Lacrosse team.

Courtesy of Vickie Night

Courtesy of Vickie Night

John Michael Night with the Mercer Lacrosse team.

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Mercer Men’s Lacrosse is built 41 members strong. Only 40 of those men show up on the roster though. And while one member does not score goals or win faceoffs, his impact can still be felt on and off the field.

John Michael Night signed to be a Mercer Lacrosse player nearly three years ago, during his junior year of high school, but he has never suited up for the Black and Orange. The star from Trinity Preparatory School in Florida suffered a brain stem stroke just two weeks after signing his letter of intent. He was 17 years old.

“At first, you feel for JM (sic). You feel for the family, but I’ll tell you I learned very quickly through the process that this young man is extremely strong. His will was never denied,” said Head Coach Kyle Hannan.

The stroke left Night paralyzed. The only movement left to him was in his eyes, a condition called locked-in syndrome. He still had full cognitive function, but essentially became trapped in his own body. Something, that while devastating, has not affected him as a person Vickie Night, his mother, said.

“He is very much still the same as he has always been. That is such a blessing!” Vickie Night said. “Even in his condition today, he still thinks of others first. He was always determined and fearless.”

Night has since gained feeling in different parts of his body and can even stand for short periods of time with help. His determination and positive attitude went a long way with Coach Hannan and the team. They recognized that they still had a teammate and decided to treat him as such.

“We decided to honor his number with a player each week, and JM is the one who selects the player,” Hannan said. “He watches all of our games. We send the video to him. He watches the games, and then he chooses a player to wear his number, 24, the following game.”

That idea came from leadership within the roster. Originally, the team would have one person carry Night’s number 24 jersey onto the field and then later lay it across the bench. Redshirt junior Jake Sadd decided that just was not good enough.

“I thought how could we take this further. How can we make this a little bit better? How can we make it feel like he’s on the field with us?” Sadd said.

After suggesting that a different player wear the jersey each week, Sadd said he noticed a change. A sense of urgency became apparent in the team’s energy.

“It brings that extra kick, that extra motivation we need, and it definitely helps team morale as well,” Sadd said. “It’s an unbelievable honor. The fact that the guy who’s one of the best fighters I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, getting to talk to, being a teammate with – for him to pick you out specifically for a game to represent him and represent what he stands for is a huge honor.”

Hannan said he is proud of the way his group has handled the situation. It would have been easy to retract themselves, but instead they have thrown themselves into a deep relationship with the Night family. Besides wearing his number each week, they also have “JMN 24” stickers on the back of their helmets and have held games with benefits going towards Night’s recovery.

The team communicates with Night on a weekly basis and try to meet in person with him at least five times a year, either traveling to Florida themselves or having the Night family in Macon. It is a feeling Vickie Night said is very touching.

“Just when they come by and they cheer for him and they give him a high five and say ‘Hey JM, 24’ it just means so much to us. It really helps keep him going and working hard every day,” she said.

On the field, Night’s presence can be felt in each and every teammate, especially whomever is wearing number 24 that week.

“You’re always thinking about it. You’re assessing the situation and thinking about it in different ways. It weighs heavy on you. It gives you something a little bit bigger to play for in a way,” said Senior Scott Baird.

“Every time I was out there I was thinking you can’t quit now,” Sadd said. “You have to give that extra effort cause I know he’s fighting the ultimate fight everyday, and I know I have to give 110.”

Hannan said that “JM” will always be a part of the Mercer program and that his impact goes far beyond just lacrosse.

“I think our guys understand his love for Mercer lacrosse and how much he’s into the program and what he does everyday to be apart of the program. I think it goes a long way with our players to realize that, ‘Hey, we’ve got a brother here that is going through a pretty tough time, but he just keeps fighting.’ I think it’s a life lesson from the coaches all the way down to the players, the alumni, the future players. Everybody understands the situation, and he’s just an unbelievable role model with tremendous character,” Hannan said.

Everyone in Mercer Lacrosse is trying to be just as #JMStrong.

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A Night to Remember