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Good Bull! Honoring the scholarship of a player who is too injured to ever take the field

Posted by on Feb. 5, 2014 at 10:34 AM
  • 7 Replies

Despite career-ending injury, Texas A&M still honoring recruit Collins' scholarship




G.J. McCarthy/Staff Photographer
Cedric Collins Jr. (left) and his father, Cedric Collins Sr., photographed Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at Skyline High School in Dallas. The younger Collins, a senior at Skyline, will be awarded his athletic scholarship from Texas A&M University despite the fact he will be unable to play in the upcoming football season due to an injury. (G.J. McCarthy/The Dallas Morning News)
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Skyline’s Cedric Collins will take part Wednesday in the photo-ops and ceremonial hoopla that make up national signing day.

But for the speedy, versatile cornerback who committed to Texas A&M in August 2012, before he’d even played his junior season, pride and gratitude will be blended with letting go of what could’ve been.

Collins is getting his scholarship to A&M. But he will never play football again.

Numbness in his legs after a hit during the playoffs in 2012 led to the discovery of congenital cervical abnormalities. The condition made continuing to play football too dangerous.

When the doctor delivered the devastating news, Collins found himself thinking only this: “I want to play.”

While acceptance has come slowly for Collins and his family, A&M is honoring the nonbinding oral commitment, making it official Wednesday, even though Collins will never play a down for the Aggies.

Collins and A&M will file for a medical exemption, which would allow A&M to pay for his school though it wouldn’t have to count Collins against the 85-player scholarship limit.

“He’s got the same scholarship,” said Collins’ father, Cedric Sr., wearing a hat stamped with an A&M logo, “that the starting quarterback has.”

Collins had played tackle football since third grade and varsity at Class 5A Skyline since he was a freshman. He drew early interest and offers from big-time colleges and visited schools from Notre Dame to Nebraska.

Collins hit it off quickly with coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff at A&M. Collins wanted to commit in April 2012 — well before Johnny Manziel was a household name — but his dad made him wait until that August. Collins, 5-7 and 175 pounds, had everything in front of him.

“He was a great athlete,” Skyline coach Reginald Samples said. “As a defensive back, he could play three or four positions. And he’s always been one of the fastest in his class.”

Dark day

Everything changed during Skyline’s first-round playoff game against Plano, held at SMU. Collins Sr. knows the date like he knows his phone number. Nov. 16, 2012.

On a routine play, Collins headed toward the action, when he was blocked by an opponent.

“I lost the feeling in my legs,” Collins said.

The numbness lasted only a few minutes. In the stands, Collins Sr. figured it was a typical leg injury. Collins Jr. walked off the field under his own power. He didn’t know then that he would never return.

X-rays and an MRI taken by doctors the next day raised concerns.

Collins was referred to Dr. Andrew Dossett, a noted orthopedic surgeon at The Carrell Clinic who has a history of treating professional and collegiate athletes with spinal disorders.

Collins was diagnosed with Klippel-Feil Syndrome, a rare congenital fusion of vertebrae.

“It’s exceptionally rare to have this abnormality,” Dossett said, “and be that good of a football player.”

That’s because in many cases a variety of other problems come with the Klippel-Feil, Dossett said. For Collins, his C3 and C4 vertebrae were not separated by a disk.

This caused the most serious problem by putting stress on the next level of vertebrae. Over time, a narrow spinal canal, called spinal stenosis, developed, Dossett said. When Collins underwent testing, results showed a bruised spinal cord at the C4-C5 vertebrae. Dossett also found an additional abnormality in Collins’ C1 vertebra.

Dossett estimated that he sees seven or eight players with variations of Klippel-Feil in a five-year period.

He said Collins is fortunate he didn’t suffer serious injury during years of playing football. It’s difficult, he said, to know what Collins’ risk of paralysis would be in terms of percentage if he continued to play.

“But across the board, compared to anybody else,” Dossett said, “it’s exceptionally high.”

Tough talk

Dossett said conversations such as the one he had with Collins about ending his football career are difficult. Adding to the strain, Collins felt as healthy as always. Collins can still run track this spring, because it’s a no-contact sport.

“I understand that you feel fine,” Dossett told Collins. “You also have to understand how fortunate you are that we found this and that your injury wasn’t worse.”

Collins and his father immediately called David Beaty, A&M’s receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. Beatty told the shocked family to worry about Collins’ health and not about A&M.

Collins and his family made the trip to College Station when several recruits were visiting in January 2013. Sumlin — who can’t speak publicly about prospective athletes until they sign letters of intent — pulled the family into his office, according to Collins Sr.

“He told us as long as he was at A&M, the education would be taken care of,” Collins Sr. said. “I can’t express how thankful we are.”

A&M coaches were appreciative of Collins Jr.’s efforts to attract other talented high school players to the school, Collins Sr. said. They also appreciated the fact that Collins had seen something in A&M before the Aggies had played a snap in the SEC.

Injuries, coaching changes and fickle teenagers and recruiters have led to untold numbers of dissolved oral commitments. Collins knows A&M didn’t have to honor the handshake agreement made between the two nearly 18 months ago.

Collins will work as a student coach at A&M — he said he’d like to go into coaching — and be around the program as much as possible.

“I don’t really feel sorry for myself,” he said, “but I do find myself thinking about it a lot.”

Collins Sr. would’ve loved to see his son play in the SEC. He worries about his son absorbing the reality, for a second time, of being unable to play. Collins first experienced it during what should’ve been his senior season at Skyline. Collins will live it again when he can be around the Aggies but can’t practice or play.

“As a parent, you saw your son doing everything right,” Collins Sr. said. “It was confusing. It still is.

“But he’s still going to A&M, and the education is the ultimate goal. It’s disappointing, but through all of this something really positive is going to come out of it.”

Commitment to injured athlete is up to school

Cedric Collins comes from a Skyline program that regularly produces highly ranked recruits. Across the NCAA, would coaches of nonrevenue sports have had the same power as A&M football coach Kevin Sumlin?

A&M has no stated policy on how to handle situations like Collins’, since oral commitments are nonbinding for the school and the athlete.

NCAA bylaw allows that if an athlete suffers injury or illness before his athletic participation and won’t compete again, he does not count against the institution’s maximum financial aid award limitations for current and later years.

SEC schools are required to submit statements from the athlete’s physician when applying for medical exemption.

by on Feb. 5, 2014 at 10:34 AM
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Replies (1-7):
by Gold Member on Feb. 5, 2014 at 10:37 AM
2 moms liked this
That's awesome that they're going to honor the scholarship anyway; hope they're prepared to do it for everyone in the same boat though
by on Feb. 5, 2014 at 10:39 AM

That made me tear up.   

by on Feb. 5, 2014 at 12:43 PM
by Jes on Feb. 5, 2014 at 1:44 PM
This happens a lot. It's actually very common and the NCAA as well as NAIA have rules about such incidents. :-)

I like it.
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by on Feb. 5, 2014 at 1:55 PM
by on Feb. 5, 2014 at 1:56 PM
That's awesome

Quoting Mommy_of_Riley: This happens a lot. It's actually very common and the NCAA as well as NAIA have rules about such incidents. :-)

I like it.
by JRM on Feb. 5, 2014 at 1:58 PM
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