When the Sam Houston High School football team takes the field Thursday night, they'll be playing for more than pride. Their head coach suffered a stroke during halftime of their last game.
Coach Anthony Criss is now recovering and says he can't wait to get back on the sideline.
For Criss, the football field is home. He's lived and breathed the game since he was a kid – and he's spent most of his adult life coaching.
So when he stepped back onto the turf outside Sam Houston High School Thursday morning, he said all he felt was gratitude.
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"You don't take anything for granted," said Criss, who has been the head coach at Sam Houston for five seasons.
The last time he was on the field, his team was playing Arlington-Martin High School and he had just finished giving the players a halftime speech. As they ran back out for the start of the third quarter, something was bothering him.
"I started noticing my hand was tingling," said Criss. "And I'm like, that's odd."
Criss went over the school's athletic trainer and told him what was going on. He brought the team doctor over, and after they ran a series of tests on him, Criss found himself being loaded into an ambulance.
"He's telling me to make a fist, make the okay sign, lift your leg – and I couldn't do it," said Criss. "I kept saying I'm trying. That's when it’s really scary. And that's when I got to the point – this is serious."
He later learned he was having a stroke.
Emergency crews rushed Criss to Medical Center Arlington, where doctors quickly gave him medication to help clear the blood clot and reverse the effects of the stroke.
They told Criss had he not arrived at the hospital when he did, he likely would have died.
"Because of the quick actions of the athletic trainer, the team doctor and the EMTs, I'm still here," said Criss.
Word spread quickly about what had happened to Criss. And before he knew it, the entire lobby in the ICU was full of people waiting to find out how he was.
"Words can't describe it," said Criss. "Every Arlington ISD coach was in the hospital in the lobby.
The nurse had to come in and ask my wife, 'Can you go out there and ask these people to go home? The lobby is getting crowded.'"
In the days since, Criss has received dozens of posts from well-wishers on Facebook and Twitter – and he's been taking a lot of phone calls, primarily from coaches wanting to express their support.
"The outpouring has been overwhelming," said Criss.
He was released from the hospital on Monday and is now recovering at home.
"I gotta take it easy," said Criss. "I can't coach Thursday night, which is kind of driving me crazy. But I go to the doctors next week and if they clear me, I'll come back to work next week."
He went to the school on Tuesday for a brief visit with his players to let them know he was alright. The team says regardless of whether he's standing on the sideline, he'll be with them Thursday night.
"The morale around here this week has been one of focus and direction," said Ramon Stinson, the team's defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. "And the kids, they want to 'win one for the Gipper,' so to speak."
Criss says a win Thursday night would be great, but he hopes this incident inspires them to do something else.
"I told them live your life and be thankful," said Criss. "Thank God for every moment you have."