WESTMINSTER - John Hessler is a well-known name to Colorado sports fans. The former University of Colorado quarterback was also a pitcher in the Colorado Rockies farm system. A car crash in 2003 nearly took his life. Over the years, we've documented his amazing recovery. Now, he's adding on to his post-accident resume.
"I can't even begin to tell you what a joy it is to be coming down to the ball field every day and playing for something big," Hessler said.
Hessler is in his ninth season as an assistant baseball coach at Mountain Range High School. He joined the program in 2009, just six years after a near-fatal crash. The car he was driving was clipped from behind. His car crossed the highway and was hit by another vehicle.
"Most things, like this interview, I'll forget tomorrow," Hessler said of the side effects from his accident. "[But] I still know the game of baseball, I still know the game of football. I can still coach. I can still put out information that's useful."
For everyone involved, this season is proving to be unforgettable. The Mustangs are off to one of their strongest starts in program history and a No. 6 ranking in a very competitive 5A field.
"[We've] never had a season like this," senior Jacob Arellano said. "This one's one for the books, really."
Perhaps part of the team's success comes from learning from a man who dominated the headlines back in the day. Hessler was a standout athlete at Brighton High School, where he starred as an all-state pitcher/outfielder before getting picked up as a member of the Colorado Rockies organization in 1998. Prior to his pro baseball career, he was the starting quarterback at CU in 1995 and 1997, and helped lead the Buffs to a Cotton Bowl victory over the University of Oregon in 1995.
"This guy was a super star. Front page talent, all the time," Arellano said. "Just because he lost his career, doesn't mean he loses a career coaching. He's a great coach, a great man."
"He inspires us for sure because of how good he was, and his determination," junior Michael Polson added.
Hessler's job on game day is to keep the team loose. His players credit him with keeping their spirits high and helping them have fun, but also knowing when to be serious.
"He watches us on the little things that maybe not everyone's paying attention to," senior Dack Drennan said.
"It's nice getting to spread on the knowledge that I once was able to do and perform, but it's nice getting to share that with other kids," Hessler added.
Hessler's own growth has motivated his athletes as well. John has continued to improve physically and mentally since stepping into the dugout. Coaching baseball has provided him with a different form of rehabilitation.
"One kid was required every practice to go walk coach Hessler to practice," he said of his first few seasons with the team. "That doesn't happen today. I used to have a kid that would meet me right there at the stairs, and I would hold his arm and walk all the way to practice. Now, I don't need that."
"It's a lot of rehab because you can see how much walking is required out here, just big open fields."
But Hessler's strides aren't just measured in steps at Mountain Range. His influence has stretched further.
"I try to tell the kids, enjoy this, because this is such a short time in your life right now, you know what I mean? Don't get too hard on yourself , don't be your own worst critic, you know? Life goes on," he said.
The players say Hessler also sets an example for them through his actions.
"He just shows us every day that, play every game like it's your last, because it actually could be," senior Austin Anderson said. "You never know when something like [Hessler's accident] could happen to one of us, so we make sure we don't take any day for granted."
The Mountain Range Mustangs finished the regular season 16-3. They are now awaiting to hear their seeding in the state playoff tournament.
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