Woodstock Academy’s Braiden Saucier to be honored with Walter Camp UCAN Inspiration Award
It was supposed to be a memorable day for Woodstock Academy senior Braiden Saucier.
It was Friday, Sept. 9, and it was the first football game of his final year in high school.
It was a day that Braiden Saucier now, truly, does not remember.
And a day that his father, Woodstock Academy football coach and athletic director Sean Saucier; his mother, Woodstock Academy Director of Health Services Bobbie-Jo, and sister Kaylee, will never forget.
But it is what has happened since that fateful day that will be the topic of discussion in New Haven in March.
It will highlight the resilience of a young man who has come back from a traumatic event to resume not only his senior year of high school but also his athletic career and be a model for future Centaurs and others to follow.
Braiden Saucier will be honored on March 11th at both the Breakfast of Champions at the Omni Hotel and the 55th annual Walter Camp Black Tie Gala at Yale University in New Haven.
The Woodstock Academy senior will be the recipient of the Walter Camp Foundation UCAN Inspiration Award during the Walter Camp Weekend which brings college football nobility to Connecticut to honor those who excelled in the game in 2022.
“You go through an experience like this and there is that outpouring of support but, inevitably, life goes back to normal. When I was told about this award, it’s a nice feeling to know that he impacted people,” Sean Saucier said.
It was a situation that few have experienced in high school football and one that no one ever wants to be a part of.
Braiden Saucier had just come off the field in the first quarter of the Centaurs game against Enfield in September.
He went over to talk to an assistant coach briefly when he slumped to the ground and soon fell to all fours.
Sean Saucier was a little confused.
It was just the first quarter and it wasn’t a horribly warm evening so his original thought, a cramp, didn’t seem likely.
Then, Braiden rolled over on his back.
His father approached and saw Braiden experiencing what he thought, initially, was a seizure.
The game was stopped.
“That went on for about 30 seconds and then, it was clear that (Braiden) needed more help,” Sean said.
He, Woodstock Academy trainer Tyler McCarthy and Doctor Chris McDermott worked on the young man.
“I think it was a solid 10 minutes of resuscitation, AED (Automatic External Defibrillator) shocks, and finally we got to the point where the paramedic had him hooked up to a vitals machine and we had a relatively normal, steady heart rate,” Sean said.
It helped, immensely, that there was a doctor on the scene quickly.
“Dr. McDermott (father of Braiden’s teammate, Seamus) was crucial. I didn’t understand it at the time, but he secured (Braiden’s) airway which ended up being very important for the ambulance ride to make sure he could receive breathing assistance,” Sean added. “It was touch-and-go for five or 10 minutes. (The heart rate) wasn’t steady. It wasn’t consistent. But by the time we got him into the ambulance, he was pretty stable.”
It’s a time when no one truly knows how they will react.
Fortunately, Sean has a military background as well as his educational and athletic experience and his training kicked in.
“Instinct took over, the adrenaline, the shock, and that’s how I operate. I’m decent in crisis. I don’t panic or freeze. I actually go the other way and slow down a bit when something big is going on. Things happened quickly and I knew what to do and had help to do it,” Sean said.
In what may be a blessing, Braiden remembers little.
“I remember going to school and I went with my grandmother to Wal-Mart to get some drinks for the game and that’s it until about, maybe, three or four days after,” Braiden said.
He was on a ventilator that Friday night.
He was quickly taken off that on Saturday but while he was alert and oriented, even talking and sitting up in a chair, he remembers none of it.
“When you have that type of trauma and you are sedated, a lot of times, you suffer short-term memory loss for like 48-to-72 hours,” Sean said. “That’s why he doesn’t remember the whole weekend even though we talked, he had visitors, and we watched the (New England) Patriots on that Sunday.”
Braiden said he doesn’t remember what happened until a few days later when he was in the hospital.
“My Dad and my Mom did a great job of explaining it bit-by-bit and not all at one time because I was just getting my memory back and it was such a big thing,” Braiden said. “They didn’t want to overwhelm me all at once.”
There was only one kink in the works.
Braiden wanted his phone.
On it was over 100 messages from friends and family wishing him the best and, of course, social media.
“We were trying to lay it out in pieces and he’s looking on Twitter and getting information on his own situation,” Sean said.
The hospital, both Baystate Medical in Springfield and Boston Children’s would be his home for the next 30 days.
It was difficult.
He’s a young man.
His football team was on the field, his classmates going to school, he was in bed.
And during that time, he went through the inevitable “Why me?” moments.
“It runs through your head,” Braiden admitted. “Being in the hospital for a month means there is a lot of time to think about things. I definitely questioned why it was me that it happened to but, at this point, not anymore. I’m happy with where I am at and trying my best to move forward.”
During his time in the hospital, Braiden did undergo a bypass procedure to make sure the blood flow went around the artery previously damaged by an undiagnosed childhood disease which was determined to be the cause of the event.
“It’s always going to be with me, literally and figuratively. I had major surgery so I wake up in the morning, see the scars, and know that it happened,” Braiden said.
He came home and after about a week and a half, found his way out to the practice field, and back to school.
“Everybody was very helpful in my transition back. They made it easy to return; easy to return to school and a sense of normalcy,” Braiden said.
And he brought something else to his teammates, the knowledge that even such a traumatic event can be overcome if one tries hard enough.
In the team’s first game after the incident, Braiden Face-timed his teammates on their bus ride home following a win over Weaver High School to congratulate them.
He returned to the sidelines to support the team in an away game at Bacon Academy and was there for a home game against Guilford.
“One of my younger teammates’ parents came up to me (during the Guilford game) and said they hoped their kid would become half the leader that I’ve been. That meant the world to me because it would have been easy, after that, to not come back but immediately after, all I wanted to do was be back around my guys and be the best teammate that I could be,” Braiden said.
He was cleared to play athletically again on Nov. 22 but only for non-contact sports such as basketball, not football or lacrosse. Still, he suited up for the Thanksgiving Day football game against Killingly.
He came off the sidelines and took the final snap of the game.
“Two or three days before the game, we thought about it. It wasn’t an idea in our head the whole time but we discussed it and the whole team, the coaches, thought it would be a full-circle moment if I dressed. I wasn’t sure I was going to see the field but to take that snap was special,” Braiden said.
Even though he wasn’t in the best of physical shape, Braiden returned to the basketball court for the start of the season.
It was a carrot that was thrown out at Boston Children’s Hospital who cleared him to play.
Sean admits, early in the basketball season, it was difficult to watch him play, a little more stressful than he anticipated.
“Even though there are still risks, I wanted to be there for all my teammates and play alongside them,” Braiden said. “My Mom and Dad were skeptical about it at first but we’re a family that revolves around sports so I think everyone is happy that I’m back on the court.”
It’s that kind of thought process that inspires people including his father.
“I think it’s hard for anyone, adult or not, to maintain a positive attitude, the correct outlook on life when things happen to us. He’s a model for everyone, not just kids, on how to handle life’s challenges. What more can you ask for?” Sean said.
Braiden has played all but two games for the Centaurs this basketball season.
He had to sit out due to a more common malady; a sprained ankle.
As Sean points out, an inspiration award isn’t given just because something bad happens.
It’s how that adversity is handled.
“It’s a testament to him. His comeback. His attitude. Never once complained. Never. Whether it was in the hospital or after. Getting his fitness back, having the courage to play sports again, to play basketball, dressing on Thanksgiving and taking a snap, put all those things together and that’s where the inspiration award comes from,” Sean said.
The two will head to New Haven where Braiden will actually receive the award during a morning “Breakfast of Champions” Connecticut high school awards ceremony at the Omni Hotel.
“I can’t wait. We have a hotel room for two nights. The family is coming down, both his teammates who got honored by the Walter Camp Foundation (Seamus McDermott and Marcus McGregor) will be there as will Tyler and Dr. McDermott, which is good because they were such an integral part of everything that night. We’re really looking forward to the day,” Sean said.
The two will then go back to the room, put on tuxedos, get in a limo and be driven to Yale University for the nighttime festivities, the 55th annual Black Tie National Awards Dinner.
The guest list for that event includes Walter Camp Player of the Year, Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams of the University of Southern California and Sonny Dykes, head coach of Texas Christian University.
“It’s a real honor. Not many people get to go and attend these things. I’m looking forward to going and having a fun time,” Braiden said.
It will put a final exclamation mark on an event that no one anticipated, but few have handled as gracefully as Braiden Saucier and his family.