He laced up his shoes, headed down the driveway and turned up the road for a late summer run. With locusts buzzing in the trees and the humidity hanging thick in the air, Lucas Thatcher had a job to do.
A senior starter on this year's Lakeview football team, Thatcher was 12 that early evening in 2012. Junior high football practice was quickly approaching, and before he strapped on the pads and readied himself to make an impression in a new town, he had to get in shape.
Roaming the neighbor’s grass a few hundred yards away were the four dogs who maintained a residence on the property.
They weren’t so much pets as wild animals, unchained and given free rein to wander the area – oftentimes in search of food. From his home down the road, Lucas and his family witnessed daily how the dogs were sort of an after thought.The family sometimes caught one or several of the dogs rummaging through their garbage cans searching for scraps.
On this particular day, Lucas couldn’t have known one pit bull mix and three German shepherd breeds had reached their breaking point. Likely hungry, and with a litter of puppies to protect, the dogs were on edge.
“I got out of my driveway and they just came up and swarmed me,” Lucas recalled about that day. “I stopped and held out my hand to try and let them know I was friendly, but they just snapped at me. I took off.”
With home close to a quarter mile back up the drive, the closest option for safety was a bridge in the opposite direction of the dogs. The rising structure of the bridge could allow Lucas to climb up the side out of danger and wait, hopefully, for help to arrive.
Instead, with the dogs bunched together and bouncing off one another, his quickness allowed him to gain a step or two. Seeing his chance, he chose home. Over that distance though, the quickness that gave him a breakaway faded as the pursuers reached top speed.
He arrived home just in time to be torn apart.
“One finally got a hold of my thigh and took me down. I screamed. The window was open, and my mom heard me. She came outside while I was down,” Lucas said. “One had my thigh, another latched onto the back of my head, one had the other leg and the last one came at my face. I had to try and fight them off for 30 or 40 seconds until my mom got outside.”
Rachel Scriven arrived on the scene frantic at what was happening in front of her. She kicked one dog in an attempt to stop the melee.
Father T.J. grabbed the .22 caliber rifle, fired a shot in the air then had to pump one into one of the attackers when the warning did little to scare them away.
“I’m just thinking, ‘I’ve got to run.’ The adrenaline was pumping, so all I did was run,” Lucas said. “When I was taken down, I just wanted to keep them away from my throat.”
Meanwhile, the back of his head, both legs and his face were suffering the effects of over 200 pounds of jaw pressure forcing a set of incisors, canines and molars through his flesh.
The dogs finally relented when the victim of the gunshot let out a yelp. The pack scattered as Rachel and T.J. gathered up their severely injured son. Lucas was rushed to the hospital immediately and spent three days in intensive care.
“I can’t really explain it. It was just silence. I didn’t really hear anything until my mom ran out in the yard and yelled my name,” Lucas said. “The whole drive there, I didn’t feel anything. I was just worried about getting blood in my dad’s new pickup.
“I got to the hospital and they got me into bed and it finally hit me like a ton of bricks. It was unbearable. They gave me morphine shot after morphine shot, and it just didn’t help.”
When the adrenaline wore off, the pain took over. Part of the skin on his face was drooping off his head. One leg was so damaged and mangled the doctor asked him if he had vomited because it looked so unfamiliar.
Several of his wounds revealed muscle and bone. A tooth had punctured his tear duct just centimeters away from his eyeball.
In his words, he looked like an “alien.” The photos of the injuries were graphic enough Rachel never let him see them. To this day, he still hasn’t.
If he was lucky at all, it was the fact that all the wounds were to his flesh. No bones or critical arteries had been damaged. After he left the hospital, he returned to the doctor for weekly checkups. The stitches eventually dissolved, and, after a year, many of the scars had faded into obscurity.
Understandably, the memories did not.
Although he wanted to give up sports permanently at the hospital, he was back on the football field the very next week
When school started at the end of the month, the new kid was constantly retelling the encounter. The results were still quite obvious to anyone who crossed his path.
More than a half-decade later, it still comes up whenever he cuts his hair short. There’s a pattern on the back of his head where the hair will never grow again.
He hyperventilated running sprints once, and sometimes slightly tenses up when he hears a dog bark, but overall there haven’t been many lasting mental scars.
He said he still wants a dog someday and that his love for animals hasn’t changed.
According to what Lucas said he learned about Nebraska law, the four perpetrators would have been subject to a week-long quarantine and stricter control such as chains or cages had the owners chosen to keep the dogs alive. They apparently didn't want to foot the bill for the quarantine, or take the proper steps afterwards, and instead had all four dogs euthanized.
Though he was the victim of a brutal, vicious, life-threatening attack, he places the blame on owners too ignorant of their own animals’ health and well-being to recognize how four hungry dogs might take matters into their own hands.
There would be no recourse. The dogs suffered their fate while the owners left town for Hawaii within the week. Lucas and his family were left on the hook for the medical bills.
As he begins his senior season at Lakeview High, the whole ordeal is maybe the most significant event of his life.
And while he was the new kid on the football team and in the classroom, Rachel recalled the community welcoming him in fully even if he did look like an "alien."
"He took a horrible accident and never missed a beat," she said. "He kept going with sports and school, only missing three days of school and that's it.
"He has always been a good athlete, but working through the pain made him want to achieve more. The coaches noticed his toughness. When they gave him a chance to succeed at a new school, it just made him want to work even harder.
"His coaches in midget football and junior high football wanted him to show up and keep working. He did every day, even though he was in pain, and that impressed them."
His work ethic made him a starter as a freshman until a season-ending injury. Since then, he's been a three-year starter on a Vikings football team that has won 16 games, counting the last two weeks, and made the playoffs in 2016 and 2017.
Although he and his teammates have built their success on the little details of winning and staying in the moment, there was some talk about championships while lifting weights and training together over the summer.
It comes with the territory.
The Lincoln Journal Star has Lakeview up to No. 6 in the latest ratings. The Vikings are 2-0 after two blowouts and have only allowed 14 totals points after a shutout in Week 1.
Friday, the team travels to Albion for a matchup with 2017 state runner-up Boone Central/Newman Grove, 1-1 coming off a loss to Ord after a win over O’Neill in the opener.
Thatcher is a cornerback on that dominant defense and an H-back, receiver/runner, on the offense.
The back end of the schedule includes No. 1 Pierce, No. 3 Wahoo Neumann, No. 4 Wahoo and city rival Scotus Central Catholic.
If the Vikings prove themselves against that lot, the sky’s the limit for what Lakeview can achieve in the playoffs.
The right ending would almost assuredly surpass the one from that terrible day as the most meaningful memory in the life of Lucas Thatcher.
“It would mean a lot to me and to our coaching staff. They work so hard and care so much for us we’d love to be the ones to do it,” he said. “It would be nice to be that first team and give back to the Lakeview community.”
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor for The Columbus Telegram. You can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org