Local prep football player overcomes unique obstacle

Football player with autism rises to the challenge
Updated: Nov. 18, 2016 at 10:58 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

(WVUE) - It's Friday night in November at Hoss Memstas stadium. On the field, Thomas Jefferson takes on district rival Fisher. The Jaguars fell behind early but rallied in the second half to secure a playoff spot.

"We were down 7-nothing at halftime and then towards the end of the third quarter we started coming back."

Those were the words of junior wide receiver Austin Christian who loves being a Jaguar.

"Everybody has to do what they're told and we all have to do our own assignment," Austin said.

Austin blends in beautifully with his teammates but there is something unique about this 16-year-old. His mother, Dawn Christian, is a local social worker who still remembers the day her son was diagnosed with autism.

"I was devastated because it's not what I expected," she explained. "I knew what it was, but I didn't really understand it."

She was not alone. Autism is condition often misunderstood. According to the center for disease control and prevention, one in 68 kids have it with varying degrees of severity.

Austin's not concerned with the label. In fact, he doesn't even use the word. And with the help of others, he's developed the ultimate 'can do' attitude.

"Austin was the first child I had ever experienced with autism but he is a performer-high level of intelligence. He made me aware of what he could do," Pat Wilty, former principal of Gretna No. 2 Academy said.

"We have this little thing that we say," Dawn explained. "When he approaches something that is a challenge, I say 'are we going to push on or are you going to push back?' And he says I'm going to push on."

Then came his biggest challenge, at least physically, Austin's decision to play football.

"I wanted to play because it's a good sport for me and it's a good way to take out my anger."

"I was concerned that he would get smashed," Dawn said. "I wasn't...or just how he would be received?"

Austin's teammates quickly embraced him, treating him like every other player on the team.

"We don't want like bad vibes from anybody," said Donovan Gibson, running back for Thomas Jefferson. "So, we're protective of Austin and anybody on the team if it gets too far."

Another reason for comfort was Austin's special education teacher is also his head football coach, Kevin Kelly.

"He wanted to join football, wanted to be part of the team. So, we put him on as a statistician," says Kelly "He was good in math, and he wanted to do more. So, after his freshman year, he wanted to play. So, I said 'okay.'"

And off he went, his teammates and coaches feeding off his diligence and passion.

"His effort is one hundred percent. You can't ask for anything better, he's great," his head coach said.

He shows no signs of slowing down. He plays basketball, runs track and plays in the band.

"It's fun," Austin said. "It's fun to play, get along and hang out with friends and stuff like that."

"He doesn't see himself as a person with autism," his mother stressed to us. "He just sees himself as a person. I think that helps him. He doesn't see his disability...he sees his ability."

"You couldn't imagine him not being on the team right? He's woven in the fabric of your team right?" I asked his head coach.

"Yeah, yeah. The Jaguars without Austin would be weird "

Copyright 2016 WVUE. All rights reserved.