Player paralyzed during football game returns to field, this time to coach


Mark Mickens paid a heavy price for his love of football.

The game took away his ability to walk, but not to stand tall.

In September 2015, Mickens — then a junior defensive back for Westwood High in South Carolina — was injured making a tackle. In the fourth game of the year, he suffered a devastating spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed below the waist.

He told The State he remembered making the hit before blacking out. When he opened his eyes again, he was unable to move.

Now, three years later, Mickens is back on the field, making an impact as a volunteer special teams and defensive backs coach for Ridge View High.

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It isn’t the same as playing, but Mickens still gets a similar feeling in his new role.

“I’m just learning day by day. I’m one of the players,” he said. “I like to see kids that are hungry and want to be out there. It is my sport and passion, so I love to see that in fellow defensive backs and a position I used to play until I got hurt.”

Mickens’ injury became a rallying call, not just for Westwood, but for several schools in the area, who set up fundraisers to help his family with the tremendous medical costs.

The 19-year old says he’s focused on living “in the now,” and his relentless positivity is rubbing off on his new team.

Is Mark Mickens a good role model for young athletes to look up to?

“He comes to work with a smile on his face. I love his energy and his attitude,” Ridge View head coach Perry Parks said. “It is definitely a relief for him to be around football in any capacity. He loves playing the game of football and he can’t, so this is the next best thing for him.”

Believe it or not, his coaching gig is only a small part of Mickens’ schedule.

During his senior year at Westwood, he attended class a few days during the week, then had to be tutored to help him graduate on time.

Now, he’s taking classes at Midlands Technical College, with the goal of gradating next year, then attending the University of South Carolina to study sports nutrition and science.

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“I’m a college kid now, so it is back to business,” he said.

Mickens knows his days of intercepting passes and making tackles are over.

But thanks to determination and heart, his impact is now even bigger.

“I love sports and being around people and talk to people,” Mickens said. “I’ve still got my brain. I may have not the physical as much anymore, but I still can relate to these kids and football players.”

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Mike is an 11-time Michigan Emmy Award winner who has spent nearly 30 years working in sports media.
Mike has spent nearly 30 years in all aspects of sports media, including on-air, 10 at ESPN and another 10 at Fox Sports Detroit. He now works as a TV agent, and lives with his family in West Bloomfield, MI.
Sudbury, Massachusetts
11-time Michigan Emmy winner
Emerson College
Books Written
The Longest Year: One Family's Journey Of Life, Death, And Love/If These Walls Could Talk: Detroit Tigers/If These Walls Could Talk: Detroit Lions
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