Oklahoma rolled past Texas Tech on a night when the atmosphere, heightened by the Jump Around phenomenon, reached a level that many call the most electric they've ever experienced in Norman.
Yes, to many of us, that Nov. 22 night will always be special.
For Corey Wilson, the memory of that night exceeds yours and mine. That was the last time the OU receiver, just a redshirt-freshman at the time, ran onto Owen Field.
On Feb. 27, just two days before spring football practices were scheduled to begin, Wilson was involved in an automobile accident near Pauls Valley.
Thrown from his SUV, he incurred serious injuries, the most severe of which resulted in paralysis over the lower half of his body.
In the days following the accident, the Wilson family asked for privacy. Those wishes were granted, and for months, while Corey was returning to independent living much earlier than anyone expected, he went about his business away from the public eye.
Last week, Corey agreed to let four members of our communications, SoonerSports.com and SoonerVision staffs accompany him to physical therapy at the OUHSC College of Allied Health in Oklahoma City.
To say that it was sobering would be an understatement. But it wasn't sobering out of sympathy for Corey. The sympathy is there, of course, but as Corey grimaces and fights with the same earnestness that he did during Jerry Schmidt's off-season workouts, one is sobered out of respect, immeasurable respect.
There, down a couple hallways at the OUHSC, in a mostly stark room, Wilson is accompanied only by a pair of encouraging physical therapists. Held by a harness, he labors intensely on a $1 million Lokomat machine that hoists him over a treadmill and simulates walking.
It is impossible to calculate how such a vision recalibrates your sense of perspective. I am ashamed to admit that I have questioned the number of blue stalls in front of a store or stared too long at someone with a disability. Never again.
The road to recovery is not lined by thousands of adoring fans. It is often lonely and it is much harder, both physically and emotionally, than most of us could withstand.
Wilson makes the journey buoyed by his family, teammates, friends and the coaching staff, especially the head man.
After Corey was hospitalized in Oklahoma City, Bob Stoops delivered his breakfast ... every morning. He saw to it that his Champions Foundation purchased a specially-equipped GMC Yukon so that his player could regain some of his mobility.
Asked about his relationship with his coach, Wilson said that Stoops has acted like a father.
Different than the coaching exterior we often see, huh?
"A lot different," he said.
Corey admits that there are times when he gets down in the dumps, wonders why this happened to him and frets about the days to come. He tells how something as simple as getting in his car and realizing he left his sunglasses on the kitchen counter is now more an ordeal than an inconvenience.
Then he calls himself, "fortunate" that the accident didn't take his life.
"You can't question God's plan for your life just because it's different than yours," he said.
It's under that banner that he moves on. He hasn't read the outpouring of cards and letters from well-wishers that he received while hospitalized. His mother, Wendy, has promised to show them to him when she feels he's ready. For now, their eyes are on the future.
Corey Wilson's life will never be the same. He knows that, although he is determined to restore it as completely as he can.
That's true of many others who fight similar battles. As we attempted to drill down on his case in particular, Corey was quick to remember the many who subject themselves to the grind of therapy while coping with a long list of challenges.
All of us tend to get wrapped up in our own, small worlds, usually to the extent that we fool ourselves into thinking that our shortcomings rate as actual problems. This harsh, real-life lesson has shown Corey the difference between genuine struggles and the fake stuff.
Among the many things he can now teach us, perhaps that one sits atop the list.
Ask Corey to list his reassessed goals and the first thing he says is, "to some day walk back onto Owen Field."
When that day occurs, I suggest that we make a pact to cheer for him so loudly that the Texas Tech game will have to be remembered as only the second-most electric atmosphere any of us can recall.
And we pray that day comes soon.
- by Kenny Mossman, Senior Associate A.D. for Communications
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Corey Wilson Interview | Watch the Video
SoonerSports.com: How are you doing, how do you feel?
CW - I feel good. Taking everything into consideration, I'm lucky to be here. You can get down sometimes but I've kept my head up pretty much.
How you do you feel when you go through therapy?
I don't see it as therapy, I see it as getting better. It's kind of hard to put into words, to me, in my mind, it's a workout every day, doing what I've got to do to get back on my feet. A lot of people get in this situation and they get comfortable with it. For me, I think there is too much for me to do so I feel like every day I come up here I do what I have to do, work hard, to get back up on my feet and get out of this chair."
So this is more of a workout like what you were doing when you played football...
Yes, definitely. I guess there's a little more to it now, a little bit more at stake. To me it's just doing what I've been doing my whole life, just working hard and getting where I want to be.
How much do you remember about the accident?
I remember everything. I remember my car flipping, hitting my head, getting knocked out, then I remember waking up, laying in the grass and everyone telling me that the paramedics were on their way. I remember everything.
How do you deal with that memory?
It gets hard. It's a lot to think about some times. When it is, I call my mom, I call my brothers, my family back home, Keenan (Clayton); my teammates, they come by. It's a lot to think about, but at the same time I think about where I could be. I think about what could have come out of the accident. That makes it a little bit easier.
It sounds like your glass is half-full rather than half-empty. Why is that?
My biggest fear since I have been younger was my mom getting that phone call. To me, that means your son has passed away, something has happened to him. She got that phone call, but I got thrown from the car and the car kept rolling, kept flipping. If I had stayed in the car, I wouldn't be here. I get to thinking about that and I get to thinking what my mom would have felt like and what my brothers would have felt like if they had would have got that phone call. That puts everything in perspective and that keeps my head up and keeps my spirits up. I'm just thankful that my family didn't have to go through that heartache.
Where would you be without your support base?
(long pause) I know where I would be and I don't really like to talk about that.
How much are you with your teammates?
Every day. Keenan was my best friend for the last year and a half. Keenan would come to the hospital almost every day. A lot of people came up a lot. Donald (Stephenson), Frank (Alexander), they came up a lot. Now I am with them every day. I go up to 7-on-7 pass skel every Tuesday and Thursday and get in them. Ryan Broyles has been there by my side. If they're not at my house, I go to their house. I try to live my life like nothing happened."
Do you feel like your relationship with them is any different?
No, I'll crack jokes on them, they'll crack jokes on me, not on my situation, but cracking jokes. Everything's the same. The football season is coming around and they're out there on the field and I'm on the sidelines. That's the only difference."
What does it mean to still be tied in with the team?
I couldn't put it into words. My whole mindset even since I woke up from the surgery was I just want to walk out of the tunnel at least one time with my team. Coming from my perspective, I still want to be in stretching lines before the game, before practice. I still want to have my spot in the stretching lines. Aside from me stepping on that field and getting my chance to play, I want everything to be pretty the exact same. And I feel like everybody, especially Coach Stoops, everybody has pretty much made it to be that way.
Explain what Coach Stoops has been like?
I want to say like a father. Before this accident, we had a good relationship, a coach relationship. But now he came to my hospital room every morning, would bring me breakfast; took me out to eat a few times. He bought me that car. He and his foundation bought me that car; it's the biggest blessing. I am in a car better than what I was in before the accident. It's just incredible how he's, I don't want to say stepped up because I'm sure he's always been like that, but how he's been by my side and everything that I need, I don't have to hesitate to call him. When he was on vacation with his family, I guess they went to Mexico, he was calling me. It's been a big blessing."
How much different is he as a man than what we see as just a coach?
I would say from my perspective, a lot different. I wasn't one of the players that played a lot so I wasn't in the media, I wasn't all that so we never really had a close relationship. Now since this has happened, it's just night and day.
What are your goals now?
To walk. There are going to be people out there that think he's setting himself up for something, but I don't feel that way. Even with this surgery on my neck (gesturing towards scar on right side of neck), doctors told my mom that I probably wouldn't be able to talk normal again because of something with my vocal cords and I wouldn't be able to yell. My goals that I set for myself are probably higher than what doctors or some people would say. That's just me. That's how I've always been. That's how my mom raised us. My goals are to walk, to live my life normal. I don't feel like I'll have any things to hold me back. I don't feel I'll have any setbacks once I can get everything. To me, that all comes from working hard and keeping my mind right and just grinding basically."
What was the surgery on your neck?
I fractured C6, C7 vertebrae in my neck. I guess they cut through here to fix it. It's still not fixed completely. It's overlapping, but the doctors said that as long as I wouldn't have any problems with my arms that I wouldn't have to have any other surgery.
What that part of the accident?
Yes, it was part of the accident. I fractured my T12 in my lower back and then also my C6. My neck wasn't as bad as by back was. When you get a neck injury you can lose function in your arms, but I haven't lost any function so it wasn't as bad as my back."
How much pain is there now?
Not too much. After I do rehab for a couple days, at the end of the week sometimes, I'm a little bit sore.
How has your life perspective changed?
I know I's cliché, but don't take anything for granted. Of course, everybody says, "That could never happen to me," and you live your life like that, like I know that problem's out there and there's a possibility it could happen, but you never think it could happen to you. Especially with me, my first two years I was scout team trying to pay my dues and work my way up. I really felt like I could get my chance this year, but two days before spring practice started this happened. You always have to keep God first and realize that you can do whatever you want, but He's the one who ultimately that makes the decisions and has your life planned out. It's brought me a lot closer to God. It made me really realize that everything's not going to go the way I want it to go in life. It's just realizing there is plan for your life, no matter what you want to happen."
How do you see others who are in the same situation you face now?
Respect. The level of respect that I have for those people, especially people that maybe are in a little worse situation than me that don't have a chance to get out of that chair, just respect how strong they are to continue their life and continue to live their life like a normal person. At the "Bud" everybody pulls into those handicapped spots and runs into the caf and I hate to admit it, but I used to always be like, 'Man there's never going to be anybody handicapped coming to an athletic facility.' I used to always say that and now I'm that person. The level of respect I have for people like that is so much more now."
How much has your life changed? How much have you had to relearn?
Everything. Everything from getting in your car, going out to your car and then you forget something in the house. I can't just run back in the house and get that. I've got to get my chair back out and put it all together and go back in the house. Even getting something to eat, I've got to sometimes carry my cup, my drink to the table first, come back and get my food. Showers, I'm getting better at it, it's getting easier now, but especially at the beginning, the littlest things you wouldn't think about. Like balance, just sitting here, I never realized how much your legs work for you. Just little things stuff like that, it changed and made a big difference."
Do you feel like you have a platform now to draw awareness?
If there is a way I can make it easier, make it better, I guess bring more help, then yes I would like to do that. But I don't want to put myself on a platform any higher than anybody else that's in the position just because I am at OU playing football. If there was a way, if somebody came to me and was like, 'hey, you're an inspiration, thank you' then I would definitely like to do that, but I don't want to put myself on that pedestal like I'm any better, like my situation is any better than anybody else because I don't feel like that."
We know the big marquee names with OU football and they develop a lot of fame, but it seems like there are people here who work with you who are as worthy if not more worthy of being called heroes...
Miss Amy (Thiessen) , Pete (Robinson), I just met them when I got up here, (they're) just keeping me motivated, and keeping adjusting. If somebody comes in here and doesn't do the same work that I would like to do, they adjust those, they adjust what we call workouts, they adjust those for me. (They're) not making me feel like there's anything different about me, but making me feel basically like it's a football workout; like I'm getting ready to go out on that field. Back in Dallas, the rehab I did back at Baylor Medical Center, the therapists there really helped. They just keep my mind focused and keep me motivated to finish the workout, to work out for the whole hour, to not get sidetracked. The people like that are a big help."
Do you feel like we have our perspective out of whack a little bit?
Yes, definitely. They're never going to get paid the kind of money that an NFL superstar, NBA is going to get paid. They're kind of behind the shadows, but as much I can give credit to them and really show who's helping me, I would like to do that. Besides my family and my teammates, they have a lot to do with keeping my mind right and keeping me motivated, keeping everyone who comes in here motivated."
What are your career goals?
I just want to make money. I want to coach, I want to have one of my own UFC fighters, I want to have a record label. I want to do everything. I wouldn't say it's changed, but you think more about it. I think about more things, more possibilities."
You could still do all those things...
Definitely, I can do anything I wanted to.
You don't seem like you've changed that much, you seem very positive. How much do your days come and go?
When I am in public around people, I put on a front. Even when I'm by myself I keep my head up and try to think positive. A lot of times it's hard and it weighs down on me a lot. Something my mom has always taught me is just to be strong and don't let anyone see your weakness, don't let anyone see, I guess, you're upset. No matter how I am feeling on the inside I try to keep a bright appearance on the outside.
Do you ever ask yourself, 'Why me?'
Yes, a lot. Especially, when, like I said, I spent two years trying to work my way up to get on the field. With more work I felt like I was getting myself in a good position to help the team. Going from a mindset like that to I wake up and all of a sudden I've got more obstacles to step over. People have always told me you can't question God's plan. When I do start thinking why me, I think about people in car accidents and maybe they didn't make it, people that are in worse situations than me. I don't feel like I can complain because no matter what your situation is I always feel like there's somebody else who's worse.
Have you received a lot of letters and cards?
Yes, especially when I was in the hospital. My mom has a lot of stuff that she hasn't shown me yet because she doesn't think I'm ready. I don't like to look at a lot. I don't look at any pictures from the accident, any articles or anything like that because I like to keep my mind focused. One day my mom says she'll show me. She says there are boxes of stuff at the house. I appreciate all of the support and letters from fans, but right now I think I would be better off if I didn't look at everything.