On Friday night, the Lebanon Yellowjackets face another win-or-go-home challenge as they visit Ozark in the Class 5 District 4 semifinals. It’s the latest step in a long and winding journey for senior Lakiah Capps.
Even as a child everyone could see Lakiah was a tremendous athlete.
“When we got into pads, when we got into full contact, we could just see he was gifted,” said Lakiah’s stepfather Scott McCowan.
Whether it was football, basketball or baseball, Lebanon enthusiasts were already calling him the next big thing.
“He was a crazy good athlete,” said friend and senior teammate Jack Ehrhardt. “For example he could dunk a basketball in 8th grade.”
Lebanon’s varsity coaches were taking notice, even college coaches were sending letters.
“As a freshman he would’ve competed for the starting quarterback job,” said head football coach Will Christian. “I mean Justin Britt didn’t start as a freshman here. He (Lakiah) was that good.”
Lakiah’s best sport? Football. His heroes? Peyton Manning and Brett Favre; two of the NFL’s premier “gun slinging” quarterbacks.
“He probably would’ve been a division-1 quarterback,” said Ehrhardt. “He probably would’ve played at Mizzou.”
“My main goal as a kid was to make it big someday,” said Capps.
But just before the end of his 8th grade year, those dreams took a drastic turn.
It was a Sunday afternoon in February. Lakiah’s cousin was up from Springfield and wanted to ride four wheelers. Despite reluctance, Lakiah’s parents agreed, and what happened next would change everything.
“My cousin noticed I was gone for quite a while,” recalled Lakiah. “He found me laying in the ditch. The first thing I remember him saying to me was, ‘are you okay? can you walk?’ My reaction was, I feel like my leg is broke. I know for sure I can’t move my right arm.”
Lakiah’s parents got the call and rushed to the hospital.
“We found out it wasn’t just him breaking his leg, that he had Brachial Plexus Injury that pulls all of the nerves away from his neck,” said McCowan. “That really began the journey that we went through. It was the realization for him and us both that playing ball again was going to be hard.”
His promising athletic career was very much in doubt, but it could have been much worse.
“The doctors told me if I didn’t have a helmet that it probably would’ve took my life.”
Over the next year Lakiah underwent surgery after surgery in attempt to repair the nerves in his right arm. Doctors took nerves from his legs and ribs in an effort to regenerate feeling to the appendage, but nothing worked.
By 2014, Lakiah was a sophomore. The bad news, he would never regain full control of his right arm, but the good news was he was cleared to return to athletics, to rejoin his friends and the games he loved.
“I don’t think I had to actually decide. It was something I knew. I knew down inside that no matter what I was put through that I would still follow my dreams no matter what.”
Despite his ailment, Lakiah made NO excuses.
“Sometimes I think back like what if, anybody would, but as a team player you don’t want to think about those situations,” said Capps. “You just say, ‘what can I do to help the team the most?’ I don’t want to put myself before the team. I want to be a great leader for this program and help them as much as I can.”
The first step was much harder than he made it look.
“It started with just picking up another ball with my left hand. That’s how it started. That’s how I became left handed.”
For him, he made it look like nothing,” said Ehrhardt. “Being able to adapt that quickly, using his left arm, he made it look like he was using his right arm.”
Capps is so athletic he played basketball his sophomore year using only his left arm, working with head coach Adam Thornhill to develop a strong outside shot.
A year later, with his quarterback career in the rear view, Lakiah became a shutdown free safety, leading the Yellowjackets JV team with six interceptions.
Now a senior, Lakiah is a well-respected varsity safety and even learned how to be a kicker; one of the best in the Ozark Conference.
An Inspiration for All
“Sometimes in life bad things occur and you’ve got to deal with them positively and can’t feel sorry for yourself, make excuses and commit,” Christian said of his inspiring senior who makes others’ excuses pale in comparison.
“It says a lot about him,” said Ehrhardt. “He’s a great person on and off the field. We use him as motivation in our program just to never make excuses. Even with us having our abilities he’s out there doing it with one arm.”
And don’t call it a handicap. Lakiah expects to be treated just like everyone else.
“I still consider myself a leader on this team,” said Capps. “No matter what I’ve been through I’ve got to carry that on my shoulders and carry this team through every single game and my arm shouldn’t affect the way I play on the field.”
“His view on life is different than ours,” said McCowan. “He knows he’s got a higher calling. That he’s going to do his best, put his face in the wind and keep walking, and be an inspiration for somebody else.”
The Next Step
His prep athletic career will soon come to an end. The once promising college quarterback prospect won’t get that shot, but if the last four years have shown us anything, Lakiah won’t let anything hold him back.
“I want to get my business degree and come back home to Lebanon,” said Capps. “I want to raise my kids here. I feel like it’s the best situation for me. I love Lebanon and I don’t want to leave it.”
“That’s going to be exciting to see where God takes him,” said McCowan. “It’s going to be something good and I’m going to enjoy watching it.”