Borner vows to walk and support his team

DESOTO, Texas -- The DeSoto (Texas) Eagles report for two-a-days on Monday. Corey Borner plans to be there with his teammates in his new role on the team.

Borner, 16, was a junior varsity cornerback before a freak accident during a scrimmage in May left him paralyzed from the neck down and confined to a wheelchair. He has since regained movement in part of his upper body, including his arms, and will be part of the team's press box personnel during games and an all-around helper at as many practices as possible this season.

"It's going to be good to have him back on the field," said senior defensive back Adrian White.

In a sense, Borner has already returned to the field. While he was recovering at Baylor Institutional Rehabilitation in nearby Dallas a few weeks after the accident, DeSoto hosted its annual intra-squad spring scrimmage. Just before play began, a taped message from Borner was shown on the JumboTron at Eagle Stadium.

"I'll be back," he told his teammates. "I'll walk again."

The high-tech visit surprised many of his teammates. Pierce Gilbert is one of Borner's best friends (Borner, Gilbert, Xavier Johnson, Kerry Henderson and Steven Brooks call themselves the Fab Five). Gilbert didn't understand why Borner's parents, Charlotte and Michael, came down onto the field before the game until the video was shown.

"It was sad but at the same time exciting," said Gilbert, a junior cornerback.

Said Michael Borner: "There were a lot of teary eyes. I was one of the teary eyes."

Gilbert said he was on the practice field in the spring when Borner's neck jammed into the stomach of an offensive player during a tackle. Borner fell, couldn't get up, couldn't feel his legs and was rushed to Baylor. The following day, teammates and classmates learned the severity of the situation. In an eight-hour operation, two of Borner's vertebrae were fused together in the hope that someday nerve pathways will heal and allow him to walk again. He spent 11 days in intensive care.

"He has unbelievable mental toughness," DeSoto coach Claude Mathis said. "He wants to walk one day."

Borner remained hospitalized until late June, and he entertained some high-profile guests. There was Texas attorney general Greg Abbott (himself partially paralyzed for 25 years), University of Texas football coach Mack Brown, and a certain former Dallas Cowboys receiver who is now with the Buffalo Bills.

To accommodate the surprise visit from Terrell Owens, Borner's father had to delay Corey's scheduled trip out of his room that night for dinner.

"I was starting to get mad," Borner recalled with an embarrassed smile.

"Suddenly, he wasn't hungry anymore," Michael said with a laugh.

Added Corey: "T.O. was a real nice person."

Upon Corey's return home, the Borners have faced the daunting task of renovating their home to fit Corey's needs while trying to acquire a van that can accommodate his 400-pound motorized wheelchair. Much of the renovating has been done with the help of donations to a trust fund set up at the Bank of DeSoto. The van is still on their wish list.

Corey is the youngest of three boys. Brandon, 26, lives in Dallas. Daunte, 20, is about to start his junior year at Grambling State University, where he is a member of the track team.

At the hospital and at home since, the Borners say there has been no shortage of friends, teammates and even players from nearby rival schools like Duncanville and Cedar Hill who have dropped by or sent their regards. Cards, letters and e-mails have even come from complete strangers.

Even after receiving well wishes from all over Texas and other states and being celebrated at his family's church, Borner has stayed the same person in the face of his injury.

"He's the same kid. Same person," said Johnson, who will be a junior running back.

On Thursday, Borner prepared for his return to school in a few weeks. His visit to the high school lasted more than four hours, as he wheeled from room to room and became acquainted with his new class schedule.

"They're all downstairs, so there's a way for me to get around," he said. "In each room, I'll be at a table instead of at a desk."

Borner plans to attend the opening practice for the Eagles, who open their season on Saturday, Aug. 29, in an ESPN-televised game at Cedar Hill, No. 12 in the ESPN RISE preseason FAB 50 rankings. If he can work it into his schedule, Borner will be at the game. He undergoes regular rehab sessions that include occupational therapy concentrating on his upper body and physical therapy concentrating on his lower body.

"It's a workout," Borner said of the sessions, held three times a week. "[It] keeps you going. It's better than sitting around."

If Borner is able to drop in on his teammates Monday, Johnson said it would mean a lot to the players: "I think seeing him out there will motivate everybody."

Jeff Miller is a freelance writer in Texas and can be reached at miller.jeff55@gmail.com.