VIDEO – On the sidelines of Arizona College Prep’s football field is where you’ll find JT Mulvihill.
The gridiron has been his second home for as long as he can remember.
Just a high school junior himself, he’s taken on a coaching role on the Freshman Football Team staff.
“I love football,” Mulvihill said. “I love coaching it. I help out with a little bit of everything. Help coach linebackers. Help coach defense. Help coach offense. Anything that they need me to do, I fill in.”
“He’s found a place and he’s found something that fits him,” Taragh Mulvihill, JT’s mom, said.
What his infectious energy and smile won’t tell you are the challenges he’s faced on the road to that place.
“I had some catastrophic eye injuries and my retina detached and left me blind in my left eye but I’m not able to play anymore,” JT said.
“We were never really sure what would happen after JT had the retinal detachment and then the eight surgeries to attempt to build back up his eye,” Taragh said.
He isn’t cleared to play because his genetic disorder still puts him at risk to lose sight in his right eye, but he had to stay close to the game somehow.
“The first time I was out on the field when they were asking me questions like, ‘Hey, how do I do this?,’ and I was able to explain it, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness – this is it!,’” JT said.
Knights Football head coach Myron Blueford noticed JT’s mentality shift when he put on the coaches shirt.
“Even when he was doing drills with us, I know it was in the back of his mind – the things that could possibly happen,” Blueford said. “This is a role where he doesn’t have to worry about that.”
‘Coach JT,’ as they call him, reignited his passion on the field and his confidence off of it.
“You could see the maturity and responsibility knowing that he had freshmen that were looking up to him as one of those leaders,” Blueford said.
After receiving more difficult news, football is not only his love, but an escape.
“We haven’t had the easiest time,” Taragh said. “Between JT’s eyes and this past year, my husband’s had a cancer diagnosis and our kids have really… they’re powerful little beings. My kids, they look at some of these things and they look at us and they look at the support that we give each other and they say, ‘We’re gonna be okay. We’re gonna make it through.’”
JT hasn’t just been making it through, he’s been breaking through.
This time, by spending two years designing a helmet liner to soften hits to the head – a project that finished 2nd in a national competition.
“Because it ended so early for me…that pain…I never want anybody to ever go through that again,” JT said. “If there’s someone like me or someone who was like me, that aspires to play football, maybe they get a shot that I didn’t and I think that would be awesome for them.”
JT has helped lead ACP Freshman Football to a dominant season and JT’s father, John, has just completed clinical trials as the family remains optimistic about the future.