by WES FERGUSON
When Boone Feldt gets a stinger, it starts as a burning sensation in his shoulder and shoots down his arm, into his hand.
“Then it all goes kind of numb,” said Feldt, a top recruit at the University of North Texas and the middle son of Hays Rebels head football coach Blake Feldt. “It’s been a recurring problem since my sophomore year.”
Stingers, or burners, are usually caused by pinched nerves in the spine, and they’re fairly common in rough sports like football. But Feldt kept getting them. He played through the pain during his storied varsity career, first at Pilot Point and then at Hays High, becoming the first person ever named to the Class 2A, 3A and 4A All-State football teams.
Through it all, Feldt never missed a game.
North Texas’ coaches have decided to redshirt the true freshman so he can undergo surgery to address the condition causing the stingers. The need to operate is especially frustrating, Boone Feldt said, because he already had one procedure that didn’t fix the problem.
“I just had surgery on my spine in February,” he said. “It was supposed to help with the nerves in my shoulder. I got to North Texas and started working out, going through summer school, and on the first day of two-a-days I got a stinger again, which wasn’t supposed to happen.”
Feldt said he’d been practicing with the Mean Green’s second-team offense before the stinger. Now he’ll probably have to wait until spring football to fight for his roster spot. He’ll also have to wait a whole year for the chance to suit up alongside his older brother Cam, a fellow offensive lineman who transferred from Arkansas to North Texas in May.
Feldt’s initial diagnosis was spinal stenosis, or a narrowing of the spine. But now his doctors think one of his ribs is pinching a bundle of nerves in his neck and shoulder. The rare condition is called thoracic outlet syndrome, and athletes who repetitively raise their arms above their heads – including swimmers, volleyball players and some Major League Baseball pitchers – are more likely to develop it.
As a center who snaps the ball dozens of times per game, Feldt appears to fit that profile.
When Boone Feldt was a sophomore and Cam Feldt was a senior, they earned a Class 2A state championship playing for their father at Pilot Point. After Blake Feldft was hired as the Rebels’ head coach in February 2011, Feldt transferred to Hays for his senior year and helped lead the Rebels to a share of the District 27-4A title and the second round of the playoffs.
Bigger schools recruited the 6-ft-3-in, 285-pounder, but he chose North Texas for the opportunity to play with his brother and because he liked what new coach Dan McCarney was doing with the program. He knew there was a good chance he’d redshirt as a freshman anyway, but the need for surgery is still a setback.
“My coaches were disappointed because we’re an investment to them,” he said. “When you invest in something you don’t want anything going wrong with it. You want everybody to be 100 percent so we can build this program up.”
They weren’t the only ones who weren’t pleased with the prognosis.
“I was really disappointed,” Feldt said, “and then I had to cool off for a second and put things in perspective: If for some unfortunate reason football doesn’t work out with all the shoulder stuff, then just focus on school and move on.
“I try not to think about football ending, but with spinal injuries and nerve injuries, it’s sometimes a possibility. But I don’t want to think about that right now.”