Former Colorado quarterback in critical condition after accident

Updated: October 21, 2003, 8:12 PM ET

DENVER -- John Hessler, the baby-faced quarterback who starred at Colorado before finding a home as a middle school teacher and coach, was in a coma Tuesday after a weekend hit-and-run accident.

Hessler, 29, who suffered a collapsed lung and a major head injury, was in critical condition at an undisclosed hospital, CU officials said. So many well-wishers called to check on his condition that relatives set up an update line where they could also leave messages.

Hessler, who lives in Brighton, was driving on Interstate 76 in north Denver on Sunday when his car was clipped from behind by a Chevrolet sport-utility vehicle, sending his car across the highway and into an oncoming pickup truck.

The driver of that vehicle, William Becker, 51, of Denver, was seriously injured.

The two people in the SUV fled after the crash and were being sought, State Trooper Ron Watkins said.

Hessler is a Brighton High School graduate who led Colorado to a 29-21 victory over third-ranked Texas A&M in 1995 after replacing an injured Koy Detmer. He followed that up with a 38-17 win over Oklahoma, setting a school record with five touchdown passes.

Hessler said he was determined to win after hearing Oklahoma coach Howard Schnellenberger say Detmer should start because he didn't want the game's score to be followed by an asterisk when OU won.

Hessler started the rest of the 1995 season as well as the entire 1997 season after Detmer graduated.

He was also a relief pitcher for the Colorado Rockies farm team in Tucson in 1998. He was 4-0 with a 4.50 ERA in 16 games, with one save. He retired from baseball before spring training in 1999.

Hessler is a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Vikan Middle School in Brighton and a junior varsity football coach at Regis High School in Aurora.

Vikan students were making cards and a banner for Hessler, principal Doris Candelarie said.

This is only Hessler's first year at Regis but he has made strides in working with the team's quarterbacks and receivers, athletic director Kelly Doherty said.

"He's definitely a player's coach because they know he's been there," he said. "It's not a love-hate relationship. It's just a love relationship, and that's pretty unusual for high school coaches."

Hessler's family said they were grateful for the support they have received.

"Knowing that John has so many wonderful friends who are sending their love his way continues to help us in this difficult time," Hessler's parents, June and Keith Hessler, and three siblings said in a written statement.


EDITORS: John Hessler's family has asked that donations be sent to the athletic departments of Regis High School or Vikan Middle School in lieu of flowers and cards.

This story is from's automated news wire. Wire index