AS HIS midnight curfew approached on Oct. 23, 2005, Michael Roach (below, right), the star striker for Chaminade Prep in St. Louis, jumped in his car and hit the gas. He'd been at a teammate's house celebrating a win over rival St. Louis University High earlier that day, but now he was running late and a steady rain was falling. He was just 200 yards from his front door when his right front tire caught in a rut on the side of the road. The car skidded and then flipped before ending up in a ditch. "I woke up after 12 and checked his room," his father, Mike, says. "As I was making a call to his cellphone, the ambulance was calling us."
X-rays revealed a 1.5-millimeter crack in the second vertebra in Michael's neck. Another half millimeter would've left him "either paralyzed or dead," says Michael, who was then a 16-year-old junior. He had a choice: Have a screw placed in his spine--effectively ending his soccer career--or wear a halo brace and hope the vertebra would fuse back together. Michael chose the brace, a 20-pound device he had to wear for three months, during which he lost 25 pounds.
A checkup in May found that the vertebra was 90% healed, and Roach was cleared to play again. He wasted no time helping his under-17 team to a third-place finish in the Great Midwest Classic in Indianapolis in June. Through Sunday he was the top scorer for Chaminade (17-1-1) with eight goals and 15 assists this season. "I'm getting close to where I was before the accident," says Roach, who has made a verbal commitment to play for Indiana next year.
The only thing he can't do is head the ball--at least not for another eight to 12 months. "It's kind of ironic," says Mike Gauvain, the Red Devils' coach. "I've always told Michael he could never head the ball anyway."
How did Hoover's loss last week shake up the rankings? Check out RISE's football Top 25 and track the top 10 teams in each region, at SI.com/highschool.