BROOMFIELD — Wayne Voorhees looked very comfortable in his office chair on Wednesday afternoon.
In his first interview since the Sept. 11 bus crash at Denver International Airport — a crash that claimed the life of driver Kari Chopper, sent himself and two other coaches as well as 15 players to the hospital — the longtime Legacy football coach sat down with BoCoPreps before addressing other media and joining his team on the practice field.
He was Wayne. He was candid, emotional and thankful to be a part of a community that has been instrumental in not just his recovery but the healing of his team.
On Friday, just 19 days after the crash, Voorhees will return to the sideline for the first time since the Lightning played Chino Hills in California on Sept. 9 and coach his team against Overland at the Stutler Bowl in Greenwood Village.
"I wanted to come back last week, but the doctors didn't think it was a good time yet. I've been working with our doctors and listening to what they thought would be good from a therapeutic standpoint," said Voorhees, who has been in the press box for each of the Lightning's last two games. "The good thing about coming back to coaching, I can gauge my time and I can leave practice early and if I come late, I can come late. Monday was rough and I came back Monday, but (Tuesday) was outstanding, so we are playing it by ear and seeing how I feel on a daily basis."
Voorhees suffered a fractured skull and various other facial injuries in the crash and has a pretty good scar in his forehead. He and his kids know that caution is a must.
"I'm excited, I really am. Just a little gun-shy about all the stuff going around and I talked to the kids Monday that you've got to be careful around me. I can't get whacked in the head or anything and they are going to be good," he said. "Even at the first day of practice I was a little on edge, balls were flying around, and it's like driving; I'm a lot more cautious driving and kind of in a defensive mode, because you never know, and everything is in slow-mo."
Being away from the sidelines over the past few weeks has been difficult for him, but he was incredibly grateful to his staff — including interim coach Matt Craddock — that has done a marvelous job of preparing themselves and the team.
He was in awe of their performance on the Friday night following the crash, in the Lightning's homecoming game against Prairie View.
"It has been difficult. The good thing is we have a great staff and they did a great job with the kids. I don't know how the kids did it that first week," said Voorhees, whose team is 3-1 and begins Mount Antero League play next week at Regis Jesuit. "I came out to practice on that Thursday and they seemed upbeat and they played well, which is a good thing. I'm sure there was some change and our kids adapted and our coaching staff adapted, so I'm proud of all of those guys for doing what they did."
Voorhees' assistants Kyle Rider — who suffered a broken clavicle and is in a sling — and Matt Kroupa are still on the mend. Kroupa remains in the hospital and has already undergone a number of surgeries.
Voorhees, who doesn't remember a thing about the accident, has been amazed by the outpouring of support over the last two weeks.
He has received calls, texts and e-mails from the Denver Broncos, CU, CSU, John Wristen at CSU-Pueblo and Russ Martin at Colorado Mesa. Chino Hills coach Chris Stevens even flew out to be by his side as soon as he got the news.
"It just goes to show the relationships you build over the years and guys are going to come to your aid whether you are an opponent or not," he said. "They do everything they can to help each other out and that's a good thing."
When the concussion fog lifted enough for him to realize the full scope of everything that had happened, the first thing that came to his mind was the safety of his kids.
"That was my number one concern," said a tearful Voorhees, who mentioned some of the players that were on the bus were still recovering from concussions. "That was big."
There are still hurdles that Voorhees will have to overcome in his recovery, both mentally and physically. One of those will be on Friday when he has to decide how he is going to get to the game, either via bus or in a separate vehicle.
"I really haven't crossed that bridge yet. That is one of the decisions I need to make here by the end of the week. That's a long bus ride too and it's not like we are going to North Stadium," he said. "We were talking about our route yesterday and I'm not sure how long it'll take to get there, but I think it'll be OK to get on a bus, but you never know until you do it."