Written by Brandon George
George: Heart condition sidelines, demoralizes top college prospect
A few weeks into preseason workouts in August, Carrollton Newman Smith senior Jeremy Stallworth jumped out of bed one morning and began to race out the door for football practice.
Then reality hit the standout linebacker when his mother shouted, "You know you can't play football this year. The doctor said you can't do anything, so go back to bed."
Stallworth retreated to his bedroom.
"All I could do was shut the door and cry," he said.
Stallworth (6-0, 215) was the leader of Newman Smith's defense last year. He finished with 132 tackles (19 for loss), three sacks and three interceptions, leading the Trojans to their first playoff berth since 1983 and the best record in school history at 10-3.
College coaches from some of the country's top programs called. Texas Tech was the first to offer him a scholarship.
But Stallworth hasn't played this season. He hasn't even practiced since the first week of two-a-days.
That's when his chest pains, bothering him for about 2 ½ weeks, became so severe that he told his mother one morning that he couldn't take it anymore and that he needed to go to the hospital.
Doctors discovered Stallworth had pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart. They found 10 ounces of fluid in the sac. Normal levels of pericardial fluid range from 0.5 to 1.7 ounces.
Stallworth's doctor prescribed antibiotics - Stallworth takes three pills a day - to drain the fluid. Stallworth has improved, though he won't play football this fall.
Two weeks ago, his doctor told him that the fluid had reduced but that he was upping his dosage of medicine.
Stallworth said the doctor told him he should be able to return to the field by February. He said that Tech is honoring its scholarship offer, but that he worries about his future.
Newman Smith coach Paul Ressa said losing Stallworth was devastating for the Trojans, who had seven starters out with injuries at one point and enter tonight's game at Frisco Centennial at 4-4 and tied for third place in District 9-4A. Ressa said Stallworth is one of the best athletes he has coached.
"He was absolutely phenomenal," Ressa said. "I think if we had him we'd be sitting in a different place right now."
Football was a major part of Stallworth's life. Being unable to play has left a void. He watches home games from the stands, and lately hasn't even been in contact with the coaches because he won't return their calls.
"I watch from a distance because it hurts," Stallworth said. "It really hurts for me to see them out there."
Ressa said, "He's having trouble handling it and is definitely struggling. It's disheartening."
According to the USA Today College Football Encyclopedia, defensive lineman Lee Roy Selmon missed half of his sophomore season at Oklahoma in 1973 while battling pericarditis. He went on to an All-America college career for the Sooners, was the No. 1 pick in the 1976 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995.
Former Buccaneers linebacker Hardy Nickerson and former Rangers pitcher Doug Davis, who was diagnosed with a mild case in May while pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers, have beaten pericarditis.
So Stallworth isn't alone. He said he looks forward to the day when he can return to playing the sport he has loved since he was 3.
"Going through trials and tribulations makes you stronger," Stallworth said. "Just like football, this is something you can learn from in life. I'm down in the third and fourth quarters right now, but I have to fight back."