Chatfield's Schott overcomes scary accident, broken neck to play key role in Prep Bowl run
Last April 1, Kail Schott was on his way to morning weightlifting before his pickup truck collided with horses that were illegally in the road. It left four horses and two foals dead, the pickup truck destroyed and a pair of fractured vertebrae in Schott's neck. Doctors told him he would not play sports again.
CHATFIELD — For Kail Schott, April 1, 2022 started as just another normal Friday.
He got up well before the break of dawn, rolled out of bed and into his pickup truck to head to morning weightlifting at Chatfield High School.
It was a daily tradition for him — something he did and looked forward to every day.
But on this day, it turned deadly.
Schott was making his way down a hill with a blind corner on County Road 6, not far from his home in Utica like he had done so many times before.
The next thing he knew, he was getting out of his smashed pickup truck in the ditch on the side of the road.
Unbeknownst to Schott, there were four draft horses with two of their foals standing illegally in the middle of the road.
He never saw them.
He collided into the horses at 55-60 miles per hour, knocking himself out cold in the process.
The collision sent his truck, which had the cruise set, and the unconscious Schott, another 600 feet down the hill.
When he came to, his mind was understandably racing.
“I just hoped I didn’t hit someone,” Schott said.
He then heard another collision.
He sprinted up the hill to see what in fact had happened, ignoring the pain he was in. That’s when he saw a dead horse, then another one, then another one and then another car, which had run over one of the deceased horses. In all, four horses and two foals had died with damage to a pair of cars.
Far from town, it took the police a while to arrive and soon Schott’s parents — T.J. and Amanda — were helping with clearing the morning traffic.
That’s when it began to dawn on everyone that Kail was really in some pain.
They called an ambulance, and first responders put him in a neck brace.
He was then transported to Gundersen Health in Winona by his parents where it was revealed that he had two fractured bones in his neck. One of those was his C4 vertebrae, which was fractured and had a piece chip off of it. He also had internal bleeding.
That’s when reality really set in for the then-sophomore at Chatfield High School.
“It didn’t really hit me that I almost died until I was in the hospital and I saw everyone worried about me,” Schott said. “That’s when it really hit me that I could have been taken away and I wouldn’t be here.”
Six weeks in a neck brace with very limited mobility in hopes that the natural curve in his neck would come back and heal properly. If not, then surgery would be required. The good news: The fractured vertebrae didn’t result in any loss of mobility and Schott was expected to make a full recovery even if surgery was needed.
But then the doctor delivered him the stomach-turning news.
Schott was more than likely done with sports.
That’s when the depression set in.
Just three weeks earlier, the three-sport standout had competed at the Class A state wrestling meet. Now, he was practically confined to the couch.
“It was a gut-punch for me,” Schott said. “There were so many emotions going on during that time. It honestly threw me into a depressive state. … It was hard. I love lifting. I couldn’t do that for two weeks. I couldn’t work out. I couldn’t get any better. I’m just kind of sitting there, like I might not ever play again.”
“It was very sad,” Schott’s mother Amanda said. “It was sad to see him — because for six weeks — that brace is very uncomfortable. He had to use his Grandpa’s scooter at school, which was kind of funny, but you know, he couldn’t carry his backpack. It was hard watching it.”
Great support system
Schott credits his family, friends and teammates for helping him. Whether it was homemade signs, playing video games or just being there with him, it meant the world to Kail as he hoped the curve in his neck would return.
“My family, friends and teammates were there every step of the way,” Schott said “They made me posters, they all reached out to me. They supported me on my way back. Just the best.”
With a great support system in place, Schott rested, doing exactly what his doctors expected of him. By the end of six weeks, the scans had shown the necessary improvement where he could start doing body-weight exercises and start jogging.
There was still a ways to go, as the curve in his neck wasn’t quite complete yet, but Schott hit the ground running.
“He was doing squats and push-ups all the time in the living room,” Amanda said. “He was really working hard to get back to where he was.”
He had help, too, from a familiar face.
Kail's brother Grady Schott, who won a state wrestling championship as a senior for Chatfield last season, also pushed Kail during his recovery. Grady had always been there for Kail growing up and he wasn't about to change now.
“He would do the bodyweight exercises with me,” Kail said. “Just so I didn’t have to do them alone.”
He soon could begin to lift weights. Utilizing light-weight and capped reps, Schott slowly and surely began to regain his strength.
He then proved the doctors wrong when he was cleared to play baseball and by the end of July, Schott and his family heard the news they had been waiting for: The curve in his neck was fully healed.
Suddenly, a return to football wasn't out of the question anymore and soon, Schott heard the words he didn't think he would.
"You can play football again."
In fact, his doctors reassured him and his family that there was no more risk than any other high school athlete who played football.
The Minnesota Vikings then heard the story and gave Schott a customized neck brace to wear for the season. That first day he returned to the field, it was like he never left.
"It wasn't tough at all," Schott said. "For me, I just played like I used to play all the time. Physical. Like how I like to play."
It was understandably much easier for him than his parents.
"It was really scary for all of us (to watch him play)," Amanda said. "But after the first couple of games, it's been a lot better. I feel a lot better. The Vikings sent him a collar to use so that makes me feel a lot better."
Schott hasn't skipped a beat, playing both ways for a Chatfield team that will go for its second consecutive Class AA state title at 1 p.m. Friday against Barnesville. The Gophers have won 25 consecutive games, dating back to last season.
"Our confidence is sky high," Schott said. "We can play with any team in the state and I think we are the best team in Class AA, but we also know Barnesville is a good team and they are going to bring it."
Horse owner charged
The owner of the horses that Schott ran into has been charged by Winona County for animal endangerment. Open range for livestock is illegal in Minnesota with Minnesota State Statute 346.16 stating the owner of the animal/livestock is responsible for keeping it fenced in and safely off public roadways.
He plead not guilty and still has not reached out to Schott and his parents.
“This wasn't the first time his horses have gotten out,” Amanda said.
For Amanda and TJ, there's not a day that goes by where they think about the fact that they almost lost their son.
"We get nervous and anxious with him driving to school," Amanda said. "We're really lucky he had a truck. He had a Ford 250, so we'll pay the extra gas money for him to keep driving a truck."
For Kail, the trauma from that day still lives with him. Yet, he's going to make the most of his second chance on life.
"You can’t take anything for granted, because you never know when it’s all going to end,” Schott said. “For me, it could have ended right there. Now, I just play the game like it’s my last and leave it all on the field.”