Ryle football: Adam Collinsworth refuses to let paralysis keep him from coaching, changing lives

UNION, Ky. -- Thousands of high school coaches across the country will pace football sidelines Friday evening.

One such coach is Adam Collinsworth, a linebackers coach at Ryle High School .

Collinsworth will be there when his Raiders run onto Toyota Field in Georgetown, Ky. to take on Scott County . But he won't be running out with his players. He'll take the field in a slightly different manner: by way of a motorized wheelchair.

Collinsworth was a standout linebacker at Scott High School before moving on to star for Thomas More College  in Crestview Hills, Ky. 15 years ago.

A hard-hitting, tackle-making machine, Collinsworth was a fixture on the Saints defense.

But that all changed Aug. 9, 1998 when he broke two vertebrae diving into a friend’s pool.

He went into cardiac arrest, his heart stopping twice. He spent three months in a hospital, paralyzed from the neck down, and was initially told he would need either a ventilator or oxygen tanks the rest of his life in order to breathe. His ability to verbally communicate was even in doubt.

But Collinsworth didn't let that prognosis deter him from from living his life and going after his dreams.

Before his injury, his work ethic and determination to succeed helped him become the Saints' second-leading tackler during his sophomore season.

After his life-changing accident, that same drive enabled him to overcome his doctors’ expectations.

It took him several months, but Collinsworth regained the ability to breathe on his own and eventually the ability to speak. And while he still struggles with physical limitations caused by his injury, he now has some feeling in his hands and some movement in his arms.

While the lifestyle conversion from gifted athlete to being physically immobilized was difficult, Collinsworth credits football for keeping his head in the game.

"There is a lot of people that have more mobility than me that are just hermit crabs, who never get out of their house, just sit in their house all day long and do nothing. And without football I’m afraid that I probably would have became someone like that," Collinsworth said.

It was more than just the sport, though. It was the people, the players and coaches he interacted with on a daily basis who helped Collinsworth push forward.

He initially feared he would have to give up his dream of coaching football, but his former coach at Thomas More, Dean Paul, didn’t let that happen. He encouraged Collinsworth to stick around his teammates and coaches because he was still part of the team. 

Collinsworth eventually became a member of the coaching staff.

From analyzing game tape to motivating players on the sidelines, to encouraging teammates to give an extra 5 percent in the weight room, Collinsworth was an instrumental part of the team’s successes on and off the field, according to Bryson Warner, a fellow assistant on the Thomas More staff.

The memories of Collinsworth’s connection with the team stuck with Warner, now Ryle's head coach. So when Collinsworth contacted him about possible openings on his team's coaching staff, Warner jumped at the chance to add him. 

“I called him up and asked him if he had any openings and he was like, 'no, but we'll make one for you” an appreciative Collinsworth said about his conversation with Warner.

Having seen his ability to work with and motivate young athletes up close, Warner needed less than a minute to know he wanted Collinsworth to join him on the sidelines at the school's football field in Union, Ky.

"I didn't even listen for 30 seconds (before) I said you're hired," Warner said.

So far, the decision has worked out well for everyone involved.

"He's here every day, never misses practice, sometimes in the heat and things like that,” Warner said. “It’s tough on him, but he's always here."

And Collinsworth isn’t on the coaching staff simply to serve as a motivational tool or a glorified mascot. He’s a coach, a good one at that. He is at practice every day, working tirelessly to cultivate football players, young men into the best versions of themselves.

Collinsworth wants nothing more than to beat Scott County and help his team earn a berth in the state playoffs. But in the end he’s just glad to have the opportunity to be on the sidelines doing what he loves.

"It keeps a smile on my face, knowing that I get to come out to practice every day,” he said. “I know the kids probably don’t think that, but I enjoy coming to every practice. You know, I’m thankful."

Collinsworth feels fortunate to have a support system that has allowed him to overcome many of the perceived limitations in his life. In sticking with his desire to give back, he’s working off the field to raise money to improve the lives of other people who've suffered spinal cord injuries.

The Collinsworth Cause Foundation  holds golf outings to raise money for the cause.

The organization held its second annual event in July at Boone Links Golf Course. The event raised $2,000 for Abby Marsh, a recent Ryle High School graduate who suffers from a spinal

cord injury. The funds helped her purchase a new manual wheelchair, Collinsworth said.

Collinsworth said he plans to help two more people next year.

You can find more information about the charity at the following link: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10201928603161729&set=pcb.511426948936282&type=1&theater

Ryle is off to a 1-0 start in 2013 after a 17-10 victory over Cooper in the their home opener.

The team looks to continue that success Friday evening when they travel to Scott County. The game begins at 7:30 p.m.

Follow the latest Tri-State high school football scores at http://www.wcpo.com/sports/ohio-high-school-football-scoreboard

Check the standings of all three states and the divisions in them at http://www.wcpo.com/sports/high-school-football-standings


9 On Your Side reporter Bryce Anslinger contributed to this report.

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