EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story is part one of a story about a student athlete at The Brook Hill School describing his journey after suffering a devastating sports injury. Part two will be published in the Wednesday, March 21 issue of the Bullard Banner News.
Imagine a chilly, nearing brutally cold – barring the right clothing – night in a small town of East Texas. You’re sitting in the stands of a high school stadium watching a soccer game.
About 10 minutes into the game, you hear the student section start to roar. This is kind of odd to you considering this student section appears to be larger than normal for a soccer game.
You glance over to hear them cheering and chanting something that you can’t quite make out. Your eyes quickly jump to the field, and you see a guy on the sidelines getting warmed up about to go in.
Little do you know, this is his first time to play in a soccer game in two years, and he is the reason the stands are so full.
Caleb Collins has attended The Brook Hill School his entire life and is currently a junior involved in student representatives and athletics.
He grew up with a soccer ball at his feet partially because his dad was a collegiate soccer player who went on to coach a back-to-back national championship winning team at East Texas Baptist University. He moved to Bullard in 2003 with his wife and two young boys to become a boarding parent and soccer coach at Brook Hill.
Both of David and Christi Collin’s sons, Caleb and Josh, have always enjoyed soccer and seem to not be able to imagine life without it even though their dad encouraged them to try every sport they could before deciding on the one they wanted to pursue and improve their skills in.
“We used to be in the yard playing soccer every day,” younger brother Josh Collins said. “It plays a big role in the life of our family. That’s what we do most of the time, and that’s kind of been one of the main things in our life.”
Even though Caleb’s mom claims she didn’t know what soccer was until she met her husband, she quickly seemed to fall in love with the sport. Whether or not, it was because he was coaching at the time.
Excluding club soccer, David has been both Caleb and Josh’s coach in the yard at home and on the field at school.
“Caleb really honed in on soccer, and it’s been his love and his passion for as long as I can remember,” David Collins said. “That’s what he’s wanted to do, and his dream was to play college soccer, and his goal was to win a state championship with me in high school. He’s driven. He always wanted to play with me at the highest level.”
Caleb discovered his love for soccer in the third or fourth grade.
“I realized it was something I was good at, so I started playing club and then it became real in fifth or sixth grade,” Caleb Collins said. “By the time I was in seventh grade, I was like, ‘I want to be a college soccer player.’”
But this tight-night, fun-loving family had a shake-up in their family when Caleb started to get hurt.
Even though he is a relatively small player, Caleb is aggressive. According to his father and coach, Caleb knows one speed and “that happens to be 100 miles per hour.”
“He plays with reckless abandonment,” David Collins said. “He’s never been afraid. Caleb’s going to play as physical as he can and try to find some advantage he has over that guy. And so he’s had some injuries, and he gets banged up a lot because he plays so hard.”
Caleb has had three distinct moments during game play within the past four years that have caused concussions and a lack of playing time.
Because of his aggressive play, his eighth grade year at Brook Hill, he was cornerback for the football team and was slammed on his head during the middle of the game. Looking back now, he believes that as his first concussion even though it wasn’t diagnosed at the time.
He injured himself again at summer camp, but just seemed to brush it off and continue to play club soccer and not heal.
During his freshman year in the middle of a soccer game against Brighter Horizons Academy, he jumped up to hit the ball with his head and another player who also tried to jump up late behind him accidentally collided with him and their heads hit each other. All of these injuries were a little over a year apart.
And then, his sophomore year, he was playing soccer on his club team and nearly 15 minutes into the game, he stepped up to defend the opposing player, and he suffered another injury that led to the end of his athletic career.
“He elbowed me in the temple and at first I just thought my head hurt a little bit, and I wasn’t really thinking of it, so I asked for a sub,” Caleb Collins said. “A couple of minutes later, I went back in and probably less than a minute later, I just sat down and I was like, ‘I can’t go anymore.’ He was bigger than me. His elbow was at my head height, and he just got me in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
He then asked for a sub a second time and began walking down the sideline. He remembers signaling to his mom to come over. She assumed he had hurt his ankle.
“I just remember falling at the corner flag, and I don’t really remember what happened after that, but I remember opening my eyes and my mom and three of the dads were standing over me,” Caleb Collins said.
A visit to the emergency room confirmed that he had suffered a concussion. The next day, he could barely walk by himself and he would collapse in the kitchen trying to get a drink because he was so unbalanced and couldn’t stand up by himself.
He lost motor skills in his left hand and nearly fell off the exam table during the tests at the doctor’s office because he couldn’t move his arm out far enough from his body.
Caleb began to convince his friends that he would be back on the field with them soon when they would ask not ever assuming – in his teenaged-boy mind – that he would be done playing.
A red flag for Caleb was after his motor skills in his hand weren’t back fully, and his general practitioner told them that he needed care from a neurologist.
“I just lost it,” Caleb Collins said. “I was wondering what was wrong with me at the point.”
During the check up with the neurologist, Caleb and his parents replayed the timeline of injuries and the doctor calmly told them, “You need to be done.”
“I kind of had a feeling it was coming, but I didn’t want to believe it I guess because soccer meant so much to me, and so it was kind of a shocker at that point,” Caleb Collins said.
At that moment, his thoughts with hours and money spent toward making him a better soccer player. In his head, it was all a waste. He had worked hard to get to the point of athleticism that he was at, and to be told there was nothing else the doctors could do was heartbreaking.
“One of the nurses looked at me like I was crazy when I said to give me a broken bone or a torn ligament or stitches all day,” David Collins said. “I know what to do with that. I don’t know what to do with a brain injury. There’s just so much about it that you don’t understand.”
The Collins family decided that the best approach was to take it one day at a time and to look at this heartbreak as a marathon and not a sprint.