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Warm welcome home
Injured athlete makes return to N. Forsyth
Haddock 3
Josh Haddock arrives at a North Forsyth High pep rally with mother Natalie Roth. - photo by Jennifer Sami
Like a scene from a movie, hundreds of classmates were screaming his name.

He walked into the gymnasium, clad in his now famous No. 56 jersey, and the students jumped to their feet with applause, tears and smiles.

Friday’s pep rally marked Josh Haddock’s first return to North Forsyth High School since collapsing at an Aug. 25 football practice.

Haddock was taken to Northside Hospital in Atlanta, where he underwent surgery for bleeding on the brain.

“I just want to thank everyone for your prayers,” he said to sophomores and seniors at their rally. “I appreciate it.”

Haddock gave out plenty of high-fives, fist bumps and hugs as he encouraged students to join him at Friday’s home game against Etowah.

His appearance surprised many students, but running back Tyler Slaton knew Haddock would be back.

“It was sort of a surprise, but not really,” he said. “I knew he was going to be fine the whole time.

“I know Josh and he’s a tough, crazy kid and I love him to death ... it’s been hard, but he’s here, so I’m happy.”

Haddock’s mother, Natalie Roth, walked into the gymnasium with her son.

The ordeal has been trying, she said, but seeing the community’s reaction to her son has been nothing short of encouraging.

“It’s the most moving thing I’ve ever been a part of,” she said. “I don’t have words to describe how awesome it is that people love my son.

“I always knew he was great, and the fact that everyone else thinks so is just really awesome.”

His sister, Taryn, said it’s a relief to have her brother home. She’s had to put her own life on hold while her brother has been recovering. A recent graduate of North, she said the whole family has been surrounded with help.

“Our county’s so big, but then it’s super-cool when something like this happens,” she said. “It’s unfortunate, but for everyone to come together and be so supportive, you know you are loved.”

Before heading over to surprise the freshmen and juniors during their pep rally, Haddock talked about his experience and rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.

“I feel blessed,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse. The Shepherd Center really opened my eyes to how much worse it could have been if everyone wasn’t so responsive.”

Haddock, who still needs to go through more therapy, said he’s looking forward to playing lacrosse in February.

While his high school football career is over, he’s optimistic for the future.

“We were watching football on Saturday and some guy from Ohio State had brain surgery and he’s playing football again, so that’s kind of encouraging,” he said.

“I’ve played football since I was 5 years old, so football has kind of definitely been one of the biggest things in my life. I’ll always have a love for the game.”