OSU's Luton: 'I'm getting better'
The injury Jake Luton suffered in the fourth quarter of Oregon State's 52-23 loss at Washington State on Sept. 16 was traumatic — physically, emotionally and psychologically.
OSU's junior quarterback sustained a thoracic spine fracture when he was hit on the head by WSU safety Jalen Thompson after a nine-yard run on a scramble.
More than two weeks later, Luton remains sidelined indefinitely, thankful that he is OK, but unsure about his future in football.
"I'm doing all right," Luton says from his apartment in Corvallis. "I'm getting better. Things are pretty much slowed down right now for me. I'm resting up a lot, but I'm on the road to recovery."
Luton has not yet been able to begin his fall term classes or to attend football practice, though he did appear at the Beavers' walk-through last Friday and then watched Saturday's 42-7 loss to Washington from the OSU sidelines at Reser Stadium.
"I really wanted to be there, and the team doctor (Doug Aukerman) approved it," Luton said. "I wanted to go Friday so that Saturday wouldn't be such a big production.
"It was great to see all the guys. They've been really supportive. You could tell they were glad to see me, too. Their reaction was really heartfelt. I'd missed being around everybody."
Coach Gary Andersen was among those in the OSU program who visited with Luton over the weekend.
"Jake is doing great," Andersen says. "He looked really good at the game. His spirits were up. He's progressing. It's good news."
Luton was injured while sliding to avoid a hit by Thompson, who leveled the 6-7, 235-pounder's head as he hit the turf. Luton was knocked unconscious for somewhere between one and two minutes.
"I remember stepping up (into the pocket) and running out of it," Luton says. "I remember seeing the first defender and reaching out to stiff-arm him. That's the last thing I remember."
When Luton came to, "I knew where I was. I didn't know exactly what had happened, but I was pretty much in tune with what was going on."
Luton's first memory after regaining consciousness was being aware of the presence of his father, Judd, who had come to the field from the Martin Stadium stands along with Jake's mother, Heather. Judd Luton is a paramedic who has worked with the Everett, Washington, Fire Department for about 20 years.
"He's pretty familiar with those situations," Jake says. "He was talking to the paramedics and pretty much taking over, letting me know I was going to be all right. It was reassuring having him down there."
At first, Luton's body was numb.
"It was pretty locked up," he says. "I wasn't able to move there for a short period of time. It was a little concerning. (Paramedics) were trying to get me to move anything I could. I started getting feeling in my forearms first, then my fingers. Then I was able to wiggle my toes, and my body started coming back.
"I didn't know the severity of it, if I'd be able to play football again, but I knew I wasn't paralyzed. That was a good moment."
After nearly 10 minutes, Luton was loaded onto a gurney and transported via ambulance — with his father along for the ride — to a nearby hospital. Tests determined the fracture and a concussion, the latter being "the reason I haven't started school yet," he says.
Luton was fitted for a neck brace that he was allowed to discard after a few days. He was fortunate in one regard. A thoracic fracture is in the mid-back area.
"Had it been in the lumbar (lower) area, it probably would have required surgery," he says. "Mine will just heal up naturally."
Luton flew back on the Beavers' charter plane from Pullman to Portland, then bussing to Corvallis. From Thursday through Sunday of the ensuing bye week, Luton was home in Marysville, Washington, to attend the funeral of Kyle Garton.
"We were best friends since we were 5 years old," Luton says. "We played sports together. He was my god-brother. Our families are tight. He's like a brother to my little brothers.
"It's been a tough couple of weeks."
Luton is being treated with painkillers and muscle relaxants.
"There's been a lot of pain," he says. "It's just dealing with headaches and the strange things that came from (the injury). My chest and shoulders have been really sensitive to the touch, but that's gotten better. I'm making progress. It seems like I'm healing up pretty well."
For the first week and a half, sleep was a problem.
"It was hard to get comfortable, hard to fall asleep," he says. "That's gotten better, too."
Luton is living with his girlfriend, Paige Holland, a University of Idaho graduate who is working in Corvallis. They met while Luton was attending Idaho during the 2015-16 academic year before a transfer to Ventura (California) JC.
"Paige has been doing a real good job taking care of me," he says. "She's taken some time off work and been there for me whenever I've needed her help."
In his four games as Oregon State's starting quarterback, Luton completed 83 of 135 passes (61.5 percent) for 853 yards and four touchdowns with four interceptions. He was 23 for 35 passing for 179 yards against the Cougars and had scrambled six times for 39 yards. His on-field awareness and comfort in the OSU offense seemed to be gaining momentum.
After each game, Luton convenes with Chuckie Keeton, the former Utah State quarterback who serves as Oregon State's quality control coach/quarterback, for a video session.
"He grades me out every game," Luton says. "He's been pretty hard on me — I actually appreciate that — and I graded out highest for the way I played (at Pullman).
"(The injury) sucks for a lot of reasons, but especially since I was starting to feel like it was beginning to click for me and for the offense."
Said Andersen: "The kid was getting better every week, moving himself along in a good way. It's a shame this happened."
Luton met with Aukerman on Monday and said he expects to soon return to his classes.
At some point, Luton thinks he'll be back playing football.
"I hope to be back out there as soon as possible," he says. "I wish I could play right now. It's week to week. It'll definitely be a couple of more weeks, but the goal is to get back out there as soon as I can."
Luton would like to think his youth will be a benefit to his return.
"The injury is unique," he says. "It's not something you see happen all the time, or to people my age. That's what doctors say. They don't see it a lot in 21-year-old, athletic, healthy people The hope is that I can heal up faster than the average person would."
Luton isn't saying for sure he'll return to football.
"There are risks for everybody who steps onto the field, but there are risks in a lot of things in life," he says. "The doctors know I want to get back out there. We'll keep evaluating my recovery, and when the the time comes where I feel like I'm ready to go, we'll evaluate the risk and reward.
"People have asked me, 'Aren't you scared to come back and try to play?' I'm not. It was a freak play. I was trying to get down. If (Thompson) goes at me two inches higher, he probably missed me and I'm fine. I'm not going to be stupid about it, but I'm pretty sure I'll be back playing football at some point."
Luton grows emotional when asked about the reaction to his injury from friends and on social media.
"The Oregon State fans have been awesome, and the Washington State fans as well," he says. "A lot of people have reached out and told me they wish the best for me. I really appreciate that kind of support."