Award winners overcame incredible challenges

ARLINGTON, Texas – Adrian Casadas has worn a smile on his face for the past week that nothing or nobody could wipe off. Those few days of pure giddiness culminating in the experience of a lifetime at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington all but made up for the 10 days Casadas spent in the hospital before this year’s football season.

When Casadas was a child, he was told he would never be able to participate in physical activities because of a birth defect affecting his right leg. That prognosis was reinforced when doctors amputated Casadas' right leg, just below the knee.

However, Casadas' belief that his disability was not a setback, rather an extra challenge to overcome, led him to play varsity high school football at Dallas Molina.

His teammates at first didn’t know quite what to make of their new teammate with his prosthetic leg on the first day of practice, but after he made it through all the drills with the ease of every other player and Casadas himself getting frustrated with his teammates for not hitting him hard, the Molina players realized that this young man could play, and play hard.

“From that day on he’s been an inspiration for all of them,” Molina head coach Charles DeVille said. “When one kind of gets down and says he has a cold or a pulled muscle, they look over at Adrian and say, ‘I’m fine.’”

Casadas battles hard enough that it sometimes forces him into the hospital because of infections and blisters the prosthetic creates on his knee. This was another setback Casadas faced before the season started.

Monday, all his hard work was rewarded, as he was honored with the ESPN RISE Above Student Athlete Award. The award, given to student athletes who have overcome adversity to display excellence in the community, classroom and field, includes an inside peek behind the scenes of Monday Night Football and recognition at the Monday Night Football Chalk Talk Luncheon.

“I never really had a setback, just a motivational stride. It’s never really stopped me,” Casadas said. “I’ve always looked at it as something that should make me want to push harder and work harder.”

Also honored on Monday was Arlington Seguin basketball player Octavia Tate. Tate had a very normal life in Louisiana until Hurricane Katrina hit. Her family was forced to move everything it had to Arlington and start a new life.

Part of that new life for Tate was to pick up a basketball for the first time in 2005. Ever since, she has been working hard to be a leader on her team and to make it to the varsity level, which she achieved this season.

“She’s a good hard working individual,” Seguin head coach Courtney Philips said. “She’s the mom of the team and makes sure everyone is ready to go. On top of everything else, she’s a good human being.”

Tate was not even going to see her dream fulfilled this season when she decided to forgo her senior year of basketball to get an extra job to help out with her family. With the blessing of her family, she overcame another obstacle to become the successful student athlete she is this year.

“I am very appreciative of the opportunity I have been blessed with,” Tate said. “I can’t look at Hurricane Katrina as a downfall, because I wouldn’t be here today.”

The final award winner was Fort Worth Diamond Hill's Hector Salinas. Salinas, a soccer and cross country athlete, moved in with a friend's family after his mother died of cancer three years ago. Salinas works hard in the classroom to maintain a 3.8 GPA while playing sports and working shifts at Taco Bell that often end at 2 a.m. on school nights. Despite the late work, Salinas has never missed a 6 a.m. cross country practice.