For one brief moment, the black and yellow Ottawa jersey draped over Matt Bollig's chest made him look like he was just another football player in a room full of them. But that moment slid away as his jersey slid to his lap, revealing his white back brace and forcing his teammates and a slew of other supporters to face a tough reality.
Tough for everyone except Bollig, that is. The Braves' junior quarterback hasn't stopped believing he can regain movement in his legs since his weight room injury last week occurred.
"I'm going to make it through this," said Bollig, a high school football standout from Chanute, Kan. "I don't want to boast or anything, but I'm going to make it through this."
The 20-year-old will take that unbridled optimism to Craig Hospital in Denver, Colo., where he began spinal cord rehabilitation on Tuesday. Before he left, doctors, teammates, coaches, friends, and family waited in line in an overflowing hospital room to say their goodbyes.
That send-off party included more surprise guests: Chiefs Ambassadors Tony Adams, Anthony Davis, Ken Kremer, and Bill Maas.
In a speech he delivered to Bollig's supporters, Maas said he knew playing career could end at any time, and was saddened to hear about a local player who had football taken away too soon.
"We go through the fear of something of this nature happening to one of us," said Maas on behalf of the Ambassadors. "I want you to know that your football brethren, from the Kansas City Chiefs to Ottawa to Chanute are all going to be pulling for you in your rehab."
The four former players also presented Bollig with a host of Chiefs gifts, including a special No. 6 jersey.
"It was pretty amazing," said Bollig, a life-long Chiefs fan. "There's a video of me at my first birthday party and in the background, the Chiefs game is on. That means a lot to me. I grew up with the Chiefs."
Adams said he made up his mind about visiting with Bollig when he received an email from the Chiefs on Monday and discovered he was a quarterback too.
"When I found out he was a quarterback, everything ran through my mind," Adams said. "You think about where you were as a quarterback at his age, and the opportunities I had after that. It sure seems he has the support and the character to overcome something like this."
"For me, it hit home because I have a 23 year old son who just graduated and played college football," added Kramer. "There's always concern, but you just never know."
Doctors don't know if Bollig will be able to walk again. But John Romito, the doctor who performed spinal surgery on Bollig, said his mindset will only help his chances going forward.
"He's got a long road of recovery and rehabilitation," Romito said. "But so much of his recovery has to do with attitude, and this young man has the character to say 'I can do whatever I need to do in order to be as good as I can be.'"