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Tyler's home for Christmas!!

12/25/2011, 11:57am EST
By Darren Cooper

Tyler HOME FOR CHRISTMAS

 

Cooper: One merry Christmas for Saddle Brook’s Tyler Vitiello

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2011    LAST UPDATED: WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 28, 2011, 1:40 PM
By DARREN COOPER
RECORD COLUMNIST
PAGES: 1 2 3 > DISPLAY ON ONE PAGE | PRINT | E-MAIL

SADDLE BROOK — Days before Christmas, Tyler Vitiello is surrounded by three things: friends, family and chocolate.

Tyler Vitiello, right, at home with his mother, Christine, has mixed emotions about the serious injury he suffered in a Nov. 5 Saddle Brook football game against Glen Rock. “I feel lucky and unlucky that this happened,” Tyler said. “Lucky to make the recovery I did.”
LESLIE BARBARO/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Tyler Vitiello, right, at home with his mother, Christine, has mixed emotions about the serious injury he suffered in a Nov. 5 Saddle Brook football game against Glen Rock. “I feel lucky and unlucky that this happened,” Tyler said. “Lucky to make the recovery I did.”

The Saddle Brook senior continues to make a strong recovery after fracturing a vertebra in his neck in a Nov. 5 football game against Glen Rock. He walks easily. He’s quick with a quip. He’s regaining strength in his hands.

The neck brace could come off in a couple of weeks when he goes back for X-rays. He’s 20 pounds lighter than he was before the injury, and, to be honest, he’s not thrilled about having to go back to school — right now he’s being home-schooled — but it’s just typical teenage senioritis talking.

And when the 17-year-old surveys his home and looks back on an experience that frightens every football mom and dad, he’s thankful.

“I feel lucky and unlucky that this happened,” Tyler said. “Lucky to make the recovery I did.”

People keep sending the Vitiello family gifts. The Giants just sent three autographed items and invited him to come on the field at the Cowboys game next week. There are flowers, and since Tyler loves chocolate, there is a huge basket full of candy bars sitting near the kitchen table.

“I’m not going to eat them all,” said Tyler smiling. “Well, maybe the Peanut M&M’s.”

Tyler was one of Saddle Brook’s best players. He had been playing football since he was able. Division III Bates College (Maine) and Princeton had shown interest.

At the time of the accident Saddle Brook was 8-0 and the favorite in North 1, Group 1.

“It was just a normal day,” Tyler said. “I wanted to play. I was ready to play ... just the same as every other Saturday.”

“It felt like I got hit and I went on my back and I thought I hit my back on the ground hard and I felt stiff. Insanely stiff,” Tyler said. “I was laying there and my neck was getting warm. I tried to move my legs to see if I could get up and nothing.”

The numbness didn’t last. Tyler said he could feel his father tickling the bottom of his feet during the ambulance ride to Hackensack University Medical Center.

Tyler had surgery to fuse the vertebrae and remove the disk. He’s got a six-inch scar running down his back and a shorter horizontal incision on his neck.

He spent three days in the hospital and several weeks at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange before coming home. He still has physical therapy, but Tyler is responding well.

The house is constantly full of people, family friends. Ciappina stops by, the Xbox is constantly whirring. Tyler’s best friend, Alex Cimiluca, takes whatever he wants from the fridge.

Football is the main topic of conversation. Tyler talks about Pompton Lakes winning the North 1, Group 1 title, surprising his teammates at the Falcons’ team dinner and how he can’t wait to start lifting weights again.

There was no better galvanizing moment this fall in North Jersey sports. Tyler became the most talked about athlete in the area. They sold shirts with the words “Stay Strong” on them and Tyler’s No. 34.

Glen Rock coach Jim Kurz believes much of the bitterness of the Glen Rock-Saddle Brook rivalry is gone and his staff continues to get updates from Ciappina’s staff on Tyler’s progress.

When asked what he wants for Christmas, Tyler pauses. There is so much he almost lost. He can’t imagine asking for more.

“Nothing,” Tyler said. “There is nothing to want. I have everything.”

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