DESOTO - Corey Borner is a senior DeSoto football player. No. 24 on the roster. Cornerback. He's been a leader working through August's record-setting, 100-degree heat wave. He has state championship hopes for the highly ranked Eagles.
He still can't walk yet, though.
"I'm going to," Borner said. "The doctors tell me to keep working, keep praying and see what happens."
It's easy to see why so many Eagles players stop by to fist-bump Borner on the sidelines of DeSoto's Ben Dial Stadium during a practice. Borner watches from his wheelchair at the same field where he had a life-threatening injury. He attends as many practices as he can _ usually missing because of conflicts with his rigorous rehabilitation schedule.
Borner was paralyzed making a tackle in a practice a little more than a year ago. He suffered a devastating, spinal cord injury that changed his life for himself, his family and friends. Once a promising athlete who had realistic dreams of playing college football, Borner has made a name for himself not as an athlete but as an inspiration.
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bradie James had Borner arrive at his weekly ESPN radio show at Uptown's Hully and Mo restaurant last season in a limo to be a guest.
"You think he might be in the tank or kind of depressed," James said. "But he puts smiles on your face. He put a smile on my face."
Texas coach Mack Brown had visited with Borner during the summer following his injury and Borner gave Brown a black wristband that read, "Find A Way." Brown has worn the band to show his support for Borner during games and texted him before kickoffs.
Brown gave Borner his wristwatch and with the challenge that Borner work to raise him arm to see what time it is. Brown invited Borner to speak with the Longhorns before last season's Oklahoma game. Borner told the Longhorns he was going to find a way to walk again, just like the Longhorns were going to find a way to beat Oklahoma. Texas defeated Oklahoma with a dramatic second-half rally.
At Texas A&M, former DeSoto players running back Cyrus Gray and defensive end/linebacker Von Miller both wore Borner's No. 24 in their game against Arkansas to show support.
College and pro sports programs from around the country have contacted Borner. His DeSoto teammates help him get around school and are wearing a No. 24 decal on their helmets.
"I'm not forgotten," Borner said. "That helps."
On May 6, 2009, he was a sophomore going through spring drills. Borner has been trying to walk again ever since.
He's in his second season being on the Eagles' sidelines and Borner has improved dramatically in rehab in the past 15 months.
"Last year, we helped him a lot getting around school," Eagles teammate Austin Vincent said. "But he's a lot stronger now. He gets himself around most of the time now."
As a 16-year-old sophomore he had eight hours of emergency surgery. He was in intensive care 11 days and started with nearly six weeks of fulltime rehabilitation. The DeSoto ISD athletic department and his church have established a trust fund to help his family with medical expenses. There's been a Corey Borner Day in DeSoto.
He's met with former Carrollton Creekview and Oklahoma receiver Corey Wilson as Wilson recovers from his paralyzing injuries from a car accident on the way home for a weekend visit.
Borner has met Rich Behm, the Cowboys scouting assistant who was paralyzed from the waist down when the team's practice facility collapsed.
They form a loose knit group who can understand each other and help stay motivated on making progress. Borner is trying to perfect all the new challenges in his life. He has to work on showering. He has to work on transferring from his wheelchair to bed or another chair. His parents have made adjustments around home to make moving more accessible.
Borner has learned he need to drinks lots of water and keep stretching his muscles as often as he can. He's getting promising movement back in his arms and fingers. He'll always have the big scar on the back of his neck.
"The hardest thing is I can't go and do anything by myself," Borner said. "When I want to go somewhere, I have to ask somebody."
When he remembers the play in which he was injured, it sounds more like an out of body experience with some very specific details and some surreal moments.
He was back-pedaling and then recalls coming up to tackle a receiver. His helmet went into the receiver's stomach and Borner felt himself falling very slowly.
"After that, I just couldn't get up," he says.
DeSoto is a program full of promising athletes and students. With third-year coach Claude Mathis, the Eagles should be a big factor in the state playoffs with Borner's senior class teammates leading the way.
DeSoto has had successful seasons the last two years but have been eliminated both times by an ultra-talented Skyline in the second round of the state playoffs. The Eagles are motivated to make this a memorable season one by making a longer playoff run.
Borner is looking forward to the future as well. He's working hard on his rehab with his goal to walk again. He's done well on his TAKS tests and will be taking his SAT and ACT for college entrance this fall. He's interested in TCU, Texas and Grambling.
Quarterback Ryan Polite is a fourth-year starter who will play in college and offensive lineman Marcus Hutchins is an early commit to Texas. Receivers David Porter and Cameron White have committed to TCU. Junior offensive lineman Curtis Riser will be one of the nation's top recruits in 2012. Off this year's roster, there likely will be 20 or more who'll play in college.
And they look to Borner _ in his wheelchair on the sidelines at practice _ to help maintain their focus.
"Everybody on the team works harder with Corey out here," Vincent said. "We can't take our ability for granted. We know Corey is out here and has our back. And we have his back."
Whenever the Eagles group together, Borner is always part of it.
"Everytime we say a team prayer," cornerback P.J. Gilbert said, "We say a prayer for Corey."