A Christmas miracle came a week early for SBCC football lineman Sage Sobrado.
It came three-and-a-half years after blood clots in his lungs nearly killed him …
And three years since doctors advised him to never play football again …
And two years since the only line position Sobrado could man was the one bagging groceries at a Fresno Save Mart.
It’s also been one year since his dreams for a college football scholarship were rekindled by an All-State freshman season with the Vaqueros.
But it’s also been three months since a broken ankle sidelined him on the first play of this year’s second game. Barely a month later, his season ended for good with the reinjury of that ankle.
Sobrado, a devout Christian, kept the same stance throughout each ordeal.
“Honestly, it just goes back to ‘God’s will be done,’” he said. “I admit I was really nervous about it. It was pretty stressful, coming so close to my dream and having that happen. It was so humbling.
“But I told myself, ‘Our plan isn’t always His plan.’”
Last Wednesday, a new plan was set into motion for Sobrado: He signed a national letter of intent to play football next fall for Southeast Missouri State, an NCAA Division 1 school from the Ohio Valley Conference.
“I’m so happy for him,” SBCC coach Craig Moropoulos said. “He’s a great kid, and it endears you to someone like that when he’s able to overcome that kind of adversity.
“His recruitment was such a whirlwind. It was only about two-and-a-half weeks ago when they first came onto campus to see him.”
Two days later, Sobrado was on a plane to Cape Girardeau, Mo. for a campus visit.
“The coaching staff there reminded me of the coaches here — some great, great people who really care about you,” he said. “I just fell in love with the place and the people.”
He signed a national letter of intent with the Redhawks on the following Wednesday. Only then did he tell anyone at SBCC about the toughest block of his life — of the year he warded off death.
It was extraordinary for someone from an eight-man football program like Fresno Christian High to even play junior college football.
“Of all the linemen I’ve had interactions with, I think he’s the first from an eight-man team to ever make it into a four-year program,” Moropoulos said.
Sobrado’s senior season at Fresno Christian ended almost as soon as it started. He thought at first that it was just a simple case of stomach flu.
“But then it went on for a month, and it got to the point where I could barely sleep at night,” he said.
Sobrado was finally diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. An allergic reaction to the medication extended his hospital stay for a month, but he was still telling SBCC’s coaches that he would be there the next fall.
His condition, however, took a severe turn for the worse in January of 2017.
“I started to develop some real breathing problems,” Sobrado recalled. “I was walking up a flight of stairs to class and, after about five steps, had to stop and take off my backpack.”
The world started turning different colors right before his eyes. The sun faded to purple.
“I called my mom and said, ‘I can’t breathe!’ … I think I’m going to pass out!’” he said.
And then he did.
Sobrado was rushed to a hospital in Fresno. Doctors discovered that he had developed a pulmonary embolism: blood clots from the ulcerative colitis had traveled to his lungs.
“They said 95% of my lungs were occluded and my heart was turning sideways,” he said. “They say it happens to only one in 400,000 of those who’ve had ulcerative colitis.”
Doctors were so alarmed that they summoned a helicopter to airlift him to UC San Francisco Medical Center:
“They said my heart should’ve given out sometime during the previous three weeks,” Sobrado said.
He spent the next four months in UCSF’s pediatric intensive care unit. He lost 60 pounds and underwent three surgeries. The doctors even considered a fourth operation to remove his colon.
“I just kept telling myself the same thing: ‘If this is God’s plan for my life, then so be it,’” he said. “But thank God they didn’t have to take out my colon because I wouldn’t have been able to play football anymore.”
His doctors still advised him to quit the sport because of the blood thinners he was required to take. But Sobrado was determined to return to the field. He took a “gap year” out of college and worked at Save Mart while trying to whip his body back into shape.
“I was in the gym almost every day, doing light stuff,” he said. “Coach Nellie (SBCC coach and recruiting coordinator Ryan Nelson) kept checking on me and giving me motivation, telling me to not give up.”
Sobrado had removed all mention of his health crisis from his Instagram account and other social media by the time he arrived in Santa Barbara in May of 2018.
“I didn’t want anybody to know that anything had been wrong with me,” he said. “Not a lot of people here knew about it. I really kept it on the down-low.”
Moropoulos didn’t learn about Sobrado’s brush with death until last week’s signing ceremony. All he knew in 2018 was that a talented lineman had fallen into his lap.
“He’s got broad shoulders and some real upper-body strength,” he said. “He’s also athletic with very good feet, which is really important for a lineman.”
Sobrado received All-State honors as an offensive tackle during his freshman year while also making the All-American Pacific League’s First Team.
“We decided to move him to center this year, which is arguably the most challenging position on the line,” Moropoulos said. “He was doing a really good job with it, too. He worked hard all spring and had an excellent first game versus Compton.
“Then, on that first play at San Bernardino, he got rolled from behind.”
Sobrado worked his way back onto the field for the Week 6 game against Los Angeles Pierce.
“The same thing happened — I got rolled from behind and ruptured all my ligaments,” he said. “There was just no coming back from that.”
At least for this season. But he knows well the route of the comeback trail.
“He’s put on some extra pounds and he looks good,” Moropoulos said. “It looks like the ankle thing isn’t going to set him back.”
It takes the veteran coach back to the day in 2017 when he learned that Sobrado wouldn’t be coming to SBCC.
“All I knew was that he was going through some health things, but I didn’t know how serious,” Moropoulos said. “He told us, in fact, that he still wanted to come, and that he would be here when he recovered.
“As it turns out, he was good to his word.”
Sobrado will leave for Missouri in three weeks. In the meantime, he plans to spend winter vacation with visits to the Monterey Aquarium, the San Diego Zoo … and to church today to give thanks for his new life plan.
Mark Patton’s column appears on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org