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Conner comes home: Brainerd turns out to wish injured Warrior well

He could be seen waving out of the sunroof of their car, smiling from ear to ear as he passed by everyone who came out to support him.

Conner Erickson returns home
Brainerd Warrior head football coach Jason Freed prepares to hug Conner Erickson after he returned home from Mayo Clinic Friday, Dec. 9, 2022, in Brainerd. Erickson suffered a brain injury while playing football against the Moorhead Spuds three months ago in Moorhead. He has been hospitalized ever since with his family by his side. The community welcomed him home with students, family and friends lining the street near his home in south Brainerd.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Community members of all ages lined Buffalo Hills Drive and Ridge Lane to cheer Conner Erickson on as he returned home for the first time in three months.

“It’s a happy day for sure,” said Jared Erickson, Conner’s uncle. “This is wild. It’s pretty cool to see all the people here just showing their support. It’s just crazy.”

Friends, family, peers and teammates gathered to give Conner a warm welcome home after the 17-year-old Brainerd High School senior suffered from a head injury. Conner was playing in a Sept. 9 football game at Moorhead when he collapsed on the sidelines. Play stopped for about five or 10 minutes, during which he was wheeled on a stretcher into the back of a waiting ambulance parked on the sidelines of the field.

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Conner spent time at Sanford Hospital in Fargo, North Dakota, to which he was initially transported. After recovering at Sanford for almost two months, Conner went to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, where he continued his therapy.
The Ericksons seemed in good spirits as they drove past faces Conner hadn't seen in months. He could be seen waving out of the sunroof of their car, smiling from ear to ear as he passed by everyone who came out to support him. A police vehicle and fire truck escorted him all the way to his driveway. Members of his family waited outside the Ericksons’ house for his arrival, greeting him with hugs and huge smiles.

“It’s a great day,” said Jason Freed, Warrior head football coach. “Somebody earlier said it’s like homecoming. This is a true homecoming.”

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Members of the Warriors hockey team also lined up to show their support. The team gathered across the street from Conner’s home and cheered him on. Before his injury, Conner was supposed to be a team captain this season for the hockey team.

Conner Erickson returns home
With his mom Trina, left, sister Mariah and dad Nick by his side, Conner Erickson smiles as the street in front of his Brainerd home was filled with well-wishers Friday, Dec. 9, 2022.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“It's been three months and a roller coaster of emotions for obviously the Erickson family and our community and our school and everything,” Freed said. “So to be able to see Conner come back and see how hard he has worked to rehab and will continue to rehab. Conner’s a young man who is a leader within our school and the Ericksons are a great family within our community. And so to be able to see them all come home and especially for Christmas, it's truly just a great day.”

This is also the first time Conner’s mom, Trina, has been home since the injury occurred. She has been by Conner’s side for the entire time he was in the hospital. Conner’s father, Nick, has been balancing his time between working in Brainerd and being at Conner’s side.

“It was so surreal setting up the Christmas tree inside, just knowing that this is the time of year that they get to come home and be together,” Jared said.

According to Conner’s CaringBridge site, he will continue therapy in Brainerd and will undergo a cranioplasty to surgically repair his skull in the future. For the time being, Conner will not be returning to in-person schooling.

Conner Erickson returns home
Family members welcome Conner Erickson home Friday, Dec. 9, 2022, in south Brainerd.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Early arrival

Conner had no idea what was waiting for him back at home, according to Jared. Conner and his family started driving back from Rochester earlier than anticipated, which meant they had to kill some time before returning home.

“It's kind of funny,” Jared said. “So they got out of Rochester pretty early and they figured they’d just stop a couple times. Well, they ended up being super early. So they were like driving around and they tried not to tell him about it. … He's like, ‘What's going on?’ What are you guys doing?’”

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SARA GUYMON may be reached at 218-855-5851 or at sara.guymon@brainerddispatch.com . Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/SaraGuymon .

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Sara Guymon recently joined the Brainerd Dispatch as a staff writer.
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