SAN JOSE -- Jared Leaf, a popular and multi-talented former Alhambra High football player, continues to recover in a San Jose hospital after suffering second-degree burns in an apartment fire April 23.
Leaf, a scholarship football player at San Jose State, was injured when his apartment near campus went up in flames while he was asleep in his bedroom. He was burned when he was forced to run through the flames to exit.
Everything in the apartment, which he shared with two teammates and another San Jose State student, was destroyed.
As of press time, Leaf remained in critical condition at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and is still unable to communicate. Leaf is expected to survive and make a full recovery, but the process figures to be a lengthy one.
"Jared has a long road ahead of him, but we are confident he will recover with all of the continued support of family, friends, the SJSU community and the wonderful staff that are working so hard to make sure his recovery is successful," Leaf's family said in a statement released Monday through the Spartans' athletic department.
San Jose State football coach Ron Caragher has regularly visited with Leaf's family at the hospital.
"They are encouraged by Jared's improvement and thankful for supportive thoughts and prayers from so many of his teammates, friends and family," Caragher wrote in a text message.
The hospital has limited visitations to immediate family only because of the risk of infection, but that could change as Leaf improves.
The outpouring of support from those close to Leaf and the San Jose State football community has been swift and massive.
Leaf's mother, Kirsten Hall, said by e-mail that she is "amazed at all of the love and support that is pouring in from family, friends, the football coaches and players and the incredible staff at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center."
The family's statement also praised the staff of the hospital's burn center.
"Their passion and optimism along with positive feedback and forthcoming information and accommodation has made us feel included in the process. We feel very fortunate that Jared is in their care," the statement read.
The support on social media has also been powerful, with Leaf's teammates turning to Twitter to express their grief and support for their fallen teammate.
It hasn't just been limited to current teammates. Nevada offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich, who recruited Leaf to Hawaii and coached him there for one season, tweeted, "Send your prayers to my man Jared Leaf, SJSU linebacker. One of the most enjoyable recruiting experiences."
The timeframe for Leaf's recovery remains unclear, but Caragher hasn't ruled out Leaf playing football in the 2014 season and certainly expects him to return to the game at some point.
"I think it's not a matter of if, but when," Caragher said. "He's a very resilient young man."
The timing of this all makes the situation even more tragic.
Leaf spent the first two years of his college career at Hawaii, where he was recruited to play running back following a splendid career at Alhambra.
He transferred to San Jose State after the 2012 season and sat out of games last year due to NCAA transfer rules. He still participated in practices in 2013 and was named one of three Outstanding Scout Team players at SJSU's postseason awards banquet.
At the conclusion of the recently-completed spring practices, the 6-foot-2, 238-pound junior emerged as SJSU's starting middle linebacker.
"It's so tragic for this to happen to a special young man," Caragher said. "He's so talented in many ways."
Leaf's talents indeed extend beyond the playing field. The communication studies major used some of his spare time while not participating in games last season to play the lead male role in an SJSU Theatre Arts production of the play "Tigers Be Still."
His collegiate success should come as no surprise to those who saw him at Alhambra, where the powerfully-built Leaf (he was 6-foot-2, 225 pounds in high school) rushed for 1,381 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior. He was named to the All-East Bay first team for his imposing presence at linebacker and was also selected to the Bay Area News Group's Cream of the Crop.
His Cream of the Crop bio, compiled through discussions with college scouts, called him a big tailback who "might wind up at linebacker" and who "fits the classic middle linebacker mold."
Teammates and friends are looking to do as much as they can to help not only Leaf, but also junior quarterback Joe Gray and senior defensive end Sean Bacon, who also lost all of their possessions in the fire.
How to Help
Those wishing to help Jared Leaf's family may contact Hannah Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. For continued updates on Leaf's recovery, a Facebook page has been set up at www.facebook.com/teamleaf11. San Jose State University and the Leaf family are in the process of meeting with compliance officials to approve a relief fund for Leaf to help offset his medical bills during the expected lengthy stay.