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How Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Chris Godwin is helping veterans get service dogs – Tampa Bay Buccaneers Blog

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TAMPA, Fla. – Flags will fly. Cannons will fire. Fireworks will erupt.

The song “A Pirate’s Life for Me,” will play over and over, unable to drown out the noise of nearly 66,000 screaming fans as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3) take on the New York Giants (3-6) on Monday Night Football at Raymond James Stadium (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).

If things go to plan, Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin will find the end zone and look up to see two Army veterans — Rebecca Stephens, 36, and Carlos Cruz, 46 — and their canine companions cheering in the stands, relishing a moment and a life they never thought possible if not for the generosity of his family and others.

Stephens and Cruz are guests of the Team Godwin Foundation and recipients of service dogs from K-9s for Warriors, a nonprofit that rescues dogs from high-kill shelters all across the Southeast, trains them and pairs them with veterans in need of mental, physical and emotional support.

Godwin and his wife, Mariah, and their Team Godwin Foundation have joined forces with the organization to sponsor a service dog for a veteran, with the hope of saving not one, but two lives.

“I don’t think you can ever underestimate what giving someone hope can do,” Godwin said. “I think that dogs in general provide that, but service dogs — for whatever reason that someone may need it — just having that companionship, knowing that there’s gonna be someone that can understand you in some way … just gives you hope that the sun will come up the next day.”

Like their humans, the dogs just need love and support to find their way again. They train for 5-8 months in Ponte Vedra, Florida and San Antonio, Texas, and then spend three weeks training with their veteran. The cost is $25,000-$30,000 per dog. Some dogs don’t make it through the program because they have the wrong temperament or hip dysplasia, but they are still adopted out to loving families.

“Veterans are a very unselfish group of people, just by nature. They’re putting their lives on the line to fight for the freedoms of all of us in this country,” Godwin said. “And a lot of times, I feel like all too often, when they return to the country they fought so hard to protect, it doesn’t necessarily treat them in the way they necessarily deserve, and that’s a sad thing.

“We respect them so much. It takes a special kind of person to put their lives on the line for other people, and there’s so many of them that don’t necessarily get the praise or the glory that they may deserve.”

The program is not covered by insurance, but the PAWS (Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers) Act of 2021 was passed by Congress in August. Once signed by President Joe Biden, it will allow the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to make a $10 million grant to private entities for service dogs for eligible veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), allowing programs like K-9s for Warriors to go from helping hundreds of veterans each year to thousands.

“The government has realized that this is real,” K-9s for Warriors’ chief marketing and development officer Carl Cricco said.

“Here are these people who are so heroic and so brave, and it’s like, whatever we can do – if this is something we can do to bring some of them peace and some hope and some love and some companionship – I would love to be able to do that,” said Mariah, who started working with dogs as a volunteer at the humane society. “I know this service dog thing is expensive and it’s a hard thing to have access to if you don’t have the means, but it’s also such an impactful thing.”

‘I kinda felt dead on the inside’

After she finished her tour of Iraq in 2011 when she was 26, Stephens struggled to assimilate into civilian life – a life that had carried on without her in the form of birthdays and holidays.

“I didn’t think I was worth much,” Stephens said.

Haunted by the trauma of living in an active warzone for a year and feeling disconnected from the world, she suffered from PTSD, which brought on mood swings, bouts of anger and nightmares. On top of that, she had physical pain for which she was given painkillers.

When those prescriptions ran out, she sought relief in street drugs — specifically heroin, which she said she used on and off for seven years.

“I kind of felt dead already on the inside,” said Stephens, who was kicked out by her girlfriend in 2018 and moved back in with her parents in Clearwater, Florida. By then, she had been to rehab three times, stealing from the people she loved to support her addiction. She lived with paranoia, feeling like she couldn’t trust people.

“I remember sitting on my bed — it was my childhood bed — and I remember sitting there, just contemplating like, ‘Can I continue doing this or is suicide an option?” said Stephens. “Suicide was this great idea, this great way for me to get out of the situation I was in.”

Then, in August 2018, a 68-pound yellow lab entered Stephens life. Bobbi wasn’t quite 2 yet, with a crème colored coat, an affinity for swimming, knocking over orange traffic cones and most of all — approaching strangers.

Bobbi had previously been with another veteran, who deemed she wasn’t a good fit.

“It took her a while to connect with me, which was really tough for me, because I just wanted her to love me immediately,” Stephens said. “But … I was straight out of rehab, so I feel like she could tell that I was hesitant, and therefore she was hesitant. … she was like, ‘OK, how long are you gonna last?’”

They started with basic commands and progressed to walks in the park, which is how they now start their day with her parents, which has helped strengthen their relationship.

They also go to the movies, the mall, the beach, and for the first time since she returned from Iraq, they’ll go watch her beloved Buccaneers.

Although Bobbi is active, she never takes her eyes off of Stephens.

“That hesitation I had was really the beginning of the strongest bond I’ve ever had with an animal in my entire life,” Stephens said. “She really made me work. Every little bit of affection that I got from her took a lot of work and was never taken for granted. … Where we are now is just this beautiful bond. I love this dog so much.”

‘She helps me face the fears’

Cruz, who lives in Daytona Beach, Florida, also struggled with PTSD after serving as a police officer and in the Army for 20 years, including time in Afghanistan from July 2012 until July of 2013. He worked with the SWAT team as a bomb dog handler and trainer and supported Special Forces.

“When I was there, the whole time, we heard IEDs going off. We heard gunfire,” Cruz said. “A month prior to me coming back — May 28 — we got into a pretty big fire fight. … It was over 80 minutes long, but it felt like a few minutes.”

He never wanted to come home with a combat action badge. He struggled to sleep at night. He was suffering from panic attacks and flashbacks. He was missing out on milestones with his wife, Marissa, and now 16-year-old daughter, Jordan.

He was given Hannah, a 2-year-old black lab with giant paws and soulful brown eyes.

If they go to the movies, she’ll lay down behind him because he’s fearful of having his back to the door. She’ll sense if he’s suffering from a flashback or if he’s about to have a panic attack. She helps him stay present when he starts to tense up, sweat and feels the ‘fight or flight response’ coming.

“She’ll distract me from whatever’s going on. She’ll lick me, she’ll lick my hands — she’ll try to figure out some way to get my attention,” Cruz said. “My wife has told me that she’s seen her a couple times at night laying on top of me when I’m sleeping.”

She’s with him when he goes to the gym, when he’s in crowds at Walmart or even at Disney World. A major breakthrough for him happened in March 2020, just before COVID-19 hit, when he and his wife were able to go on a three-day cruise to the Bahamas. Hannah went with them.

“She helps me get back to some sort of normalcy,” Cruz said. “She helps me to face the fears.”

He acknowledged Monday night will still be difficult.

“I’ll try to enjoy it as best as I can, but at the same time, I can’t promise you I’m not gonna be looking around, watching my back every 20 seconds or every 30 seconds, seeing who’s coming up behind me, looking at people’s hands, making sure security did their job and nobody’s got a weapon on them,” Cruz said.

Where would he be if Hannah hadn’t come into the picture?

“In my house. With the curtains drawn,” Cruz said. “I would not leave. I’d be taking my pills and just existing. That’s it.”

‘It just shows the power of love’

According to the 2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention annual report, in 2019, 17.2 veterans died by suicide a day (6,261 that year), while 1,068 shelter dogs in the U.S. are euthanized daily (390,000 per year), according to the nonprofit database Shelter Animals Count.

A study conducted by Purdue University examined salivary cortisol of veterans with service dogs and compared it to those still on the wait list. Cortisol is known as the body’s primary stress hormone. The study found veterans with service dogs had cortisol levels much closer to that of healthy adults without PTSD.

Many program participants have significantly reduced or gotten off medications. PAWS just paired their 700th dog with a service member, with 1,500 total dogs saved. They’re now building a mega-kennel so they can help more people and animals. The wait list currently extends to 2025.

“It increases our capacity by 150 and that will allows us to get the wait list down as quickly as possible,” Cricco said.

“At the end of the day, our goal is to end veteran suicide. Whether that’s through our organization and these veterans getting a service dog, or hearing Becca and Carlos’ stories, and their bravery gives them the courage to seek help — that’s all we want. And dogs are always in the mix. We love our furry, four-legged friends.”

Stephens, now sober for three years and counting, and serving as an advocate for K-9s for Warriors, hopes other veterans not only give the program a chance but give life another chance.

“The biggest failure in life is not trying to make the best of your life and your situation,” Stephens said. “I think for so long, veterans focus on bettering the lives of everybody around them, that it can be really tough to look inward and try to get to that place that would truly make them happy. What K-9s for Warriors provides is a lot of the people, places and things that veterans who need help are looking for. It can’t hurt to at least to try to put yourself first for once.”

Mariah added, “It shows just the power of love. Because that is, at the end of the day, the main component of what a rescue dog or a support dog brings to your life — that love and that reason to keep going.”

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Notable Bets – November among worst months ever for betting public

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The proud and confident American betting public just turned in the worst month of NFL gambling that veteran bookmakers can remember.

Entering Monday Night Football, underdogs have covered the spread nearly 60% of games in November. Twenty-three underdogs pulled outright upsets during the month, and heavily-bet primetime favorites seemed to go down on a weekly basis.

“From week to week, things appear to change dramatically,” Chuck Esposito, a veteran Las Vegas bookmaker with Station Casinos, said. “Dominant teams earlier in the year have come down to earth, and dogs have been covering at a much higher clip. There are 24 teams that are still fighting for playoff spots.”

Public bettors have struggled to figure it out and got crushed in November.

“There was one week where the players had only one game that they won, and another week they only won two games,” Jeff Stoneback, a 30-plus-year Las Vegas bookmaker, who oversees BetMGM’s sportsbook in Nevada, said. “We did have big wins, yes, but the number of wins, percentage-wise for us, was unbelievable. I was shocked.”

Sportsbooks’ net profit or loss on bets is known as the “hold,” as in the amount of money that bookmakers hold onto after everything is settled. Over the last three decades, Nevada sportsbooks on average have held around 5.5% of the money bet. The SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas was on pace to hold around 6.25% this November.

“It looks like it will wind up being one of our best hold months in Nevada on record,” John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook, told ESPN.

For the betting public, the unfortunate November came directly after a hot streak. In October, sportsbooks endured three consecutive losing Sundays. But all that did was plumpen bankrolls in time for a bookmakers’ Thanksgiving feast.

Jay Croucher, head of trading for sportsbook PointsBet, said Week 9 was when the season turned against bettors, pointing to the Jaguars’ upset of the Bills as two-touchdown underdogs as “especially notable” for his book.

Murray said Nov. 7, the Sunday featuring the Jags’ upset of the Bills, was the SuperBook’s best day of the season by far.

“There were some terrible Sundays for NFL favorites this month and that meant great returns for the house,” Murray said.

November also brought a string of heavily-bet favorites losing in primetime. The Titans and 49ers each beat the Rams on primetime in consecutive weeks, and the Dolphins upset the Ravens on a Thursday night, producing books’ biggest wins in November.

“It’s been an excellent November so far for the book,” Croucher added.

NFL notables

• Home teams are 77-101-1 against the spread) this season, which is on pace to the worst ATS mark in the Super Bowl era.

• Underdogs are 99-77-1 against the spread, which is on pace to be the best mark since 1980.

• With fewer games, betting handle on Sunday was lighter than in previous weeks, and there not many big decisions. Multiple bookmakers described Sunday’s results as “insignificant.”

• BetMGM offered a proposition wager on the Bears-Lions game on Thanksgiving: “Will both teams score 40 or more points?” A bettor placed a $227,026 bet on the “No” at -10,000 odds and won a net $2,270, with the Bears’ 16-14 win.

• Biggest reported bets at Caesars Sportsbook:
$445,000 on Packers money-line +115 vs. Rams (Win)
$402,500 on 49ers -3 (-115) vs. Vikings (Win)
$385,000 on Browns +3.5 vs. Ravens $220,000 on Titans +7.5 vs. Patriots (Loss)

College football notables

• Sunday opening conference championship game lines at Las Vegas sportsbook Circa Sports:

Conference USA: Western Kentucky vs. Texas-San Antonio PK, 71.5

Pac-12: Oregon vs. Utah -2, 59.5

Big 12: Baylor vs. Oklahoma State -5, 46.5

MAC: Kent State -3, 72 vs. Northern Illinois

MWC: Utah State vs. San Diego State -5, 51.5

Sun Belt: Appalachian State -3, 53.5 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

AAC: Houston vs. Cincinnati -12, 54.5

SEC: Georgia -6, 49.5 vs. Alabama

ACC: Wake Forest vs. Pittsburgh -3, 72.5

Big Ten: Iowa vs. Michigan -11, 41.5

• Georgia was around a 4-point favorite over Alabama before the weekend’s games. But after the Crimson Tide struggled to pull out a win against Auburn, the SuperBook reopened Georgia a 6.5-point favorites. The early action on the game was relatively even, with 56% of the money bet on the game as of Sunday on the favored Bulldogs.

• Michigan’s upset of Ohio State on Saturday produced the biggest win of the college football season to date for PointsBet.

What were the odds?

30-1: Alabama’s odds to beat Auburn late in the fourth quarter, trailing 10-3. The Crimson Tide would tie the score on a late Bryce Young touchdown pass and win the game in the fourth overtime. [odds via Caesars Sportsbook]

-200: Bryce Young’s odds to win the Heisman Trophy. Young is the odds-on favorite at Caesars Sportsbook, followed by Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud (4-1) and Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (15-1). Hutchinson was not listed last week, but caught the attention of oddsmakers-and bettors-after his three-sack performance in the Wolverines’ upset of Ohio State on Saturday. He now has the third-best odds.

-9: Duke closed as a 9-point underdog to Gonzaga in their college basketball showdown on Friday. It’s the first game the Blue Devils were more than a 7.5-point underdog, when ranked in the top 5, since at least the 1993-94 season. Duke won 84-81.

+14: The New Orleans Pelicans beat the Utah Jazz 98-97 as 14-point underdogs on Friday. It’s the largest upset, point spread-wise, of the NBA season so far.


Q&A with a bettor

Cal Spears is a Tennessee-based entrepreneur in the fantasy sports and betting space, who hit a $1,000, six-leg same-game parlay on the Raiders-Cowboys game on Thursday that paid $266,566.27. Talk about a fulfilling Thanksgiving!

The six legs were:

•DeSean Jackson any time touchdown scorer
•Ezekiel Elliott over 19.5 receiving yards
Josh Jacobs over 19.5 receiving yards
Michael Gallup over 100 receiving yards (alternate line)
Tony Pollard over 16.5 receiving yards
•Elliott any time touchdown scorer

Spears communicated with ESPN’s David Purdum this week about his improbable win. The interview has been organized and edited for clarity.

Q: Take us through your process when creating this parlay. What was the thinking behind it?

While looking at late swaps for my DFS lineups during the Bears game it dawned on me Desean Jackson’s chances of catching a bomb were underestimated. I opened Fanduel to check his yardage prop and they didn’t even offer one. So I bet him to score a TD at +700 and then added on the other legs I liked. I actually hit another parlay that didn’t include the Zeke TD and the Pollard Over for $91,000.

Q: Were you at Thanksgiving dinner when it all played out?

My girlfriend and I had plans to do Thanksgiving with my family in Madisonville, Kentucky, but we both came down with colds. We got negative COVID tests on Wednesday but still did not feel well Thursday morning. So we scrapped our plans and ended up laying on the couch all Thanksgiving watching football. I would not have made this bet if we made the trip to Kentucky; betting is not yet legal there.

Q: Takes us through the sweat, please.

The sweat couldn’t have started any better with a DeSean touchdown just a few minutes into the game. Three quarters later it looked completely dead then Gallup came to life with catches of 41, 32, and 17 to cross 100 yards. Going into overtime I just needed one catch each from Zeke and Jacobs. I watched in disbelief as things fell exactly how I needed and then triple sanity checked stats to make sure.

Q: How did you celebrate and what will you do with the winnings?

The endorphins kicked in immediately and I was ready to celebrate but then I remembered it was Thanksgiving night and I had a cold. A proper celebration is pending.

The first thing I did on Friday morning was donate $10,000 each to five non-profits that make an impact locally here in Nashville. I was unbelievably lucky to hit this and am very happy to share my good fortune. Not sure what we will do with the rest but there will definitely be a big Christmas for friends and family.



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Suzann Pettersen to captain European team at 2023 Solheim Cup

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FINCA CORTESIN, Spain — Suzann Pettersen, who won the Solheim Cup for Europe in 2019 with the last shot of her career, will captain the team four years later for its second straight title defense.

The Norwegian’s 7-foot putt for birdie at the final hole at Gleneagles saw Europe reclaim the biggest prize in women’s team golf and she retired immediately afterward.

Pettersen was vice captain when the Europeans retained the title at the Inverness Club in Ohio in September, also under Catriona Matthew, and now she has taken over as captain.

“This is the biggest honor of my career,” Pettersen said.

The next edition of the Solheim Cup will be played at Finca Cortesín in Andalucía from Sept. 18-24, 2023.

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Washington’s Jamin Davis motivated by former teammate Chris Oats, who suffered stroke in 2020

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ASHBURN, Va. — When Kemberly Gamble watched the 2021 NFL draft at the urging of her son, one thought raced through her mind: My baby should be there. Instead, her baby, Chris Oats, was beside her in their two-bedroom apartment, fighting to regain full control of his body after a stroke he suffered in 2020.

And it was Oats’ University of Kentucky teammate Jamin Davis hearing his name called in the first round instead of Oats. Davis had replaced his close friend and teammate in the lineup and turned himself into the 19th overall pick by the Washington Football Team.

As Oats works to do things like walk, talk and regain the use of his left side, Davis works to become a quality starter in the NFL for Washington, which plays the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).

“The only thing Jamin could have done wrong,” Gamble said, “is messed it up. You don’t have to honor my son, just please remember him. That’s what Jamin stands for. He doesn’t owe my son anything. All he has to do is keep working. This is an opportunity that can be taken away at the drop of a hat.”

Nobody knows that better than Oats. Nobody feels that responsibility more than Davis. They are tied together by friendship and the opportunity created by Oats’ misfortune.

“The way the situation unfolded is just heartbreaking,” Davis said.

In truth, Davis would have received an opportunity for more playing time his junior season after finishing strong as a sophomore. In his final three games of the 2019 regular season, he finished with a combined 19 tackles, including two for a loss. He’s been steadily developing as a rookie starter for Washington.

“He’s made a lot of progress,” Washington linebackers coach Steve Russ said, “especially when it comes to keying and diagnosing and trusting his keys and responding quickly to what he knows. … He’s headed in the right direction. Very accountable; wants to be really, really good, has good work habits.”

Dreaming of the NFL

Oats, a four-star recruit out of high school, was outstanding at times in his second season at Kentucky and the clear leader for one of two starting jobs available for the 2020 season. Oats’ and Davis’ close friend, DeAndre Square, was expected to win the other starting job. In one three-play sequence at the Belk Bowl vs. Virginia Tech at the end of the 2019 season, Oats shot through the line for consecutive tackles for a loss and then made an open-field tackle on third down.

“You’re like, OK, this kid is about to take off,” said Jon Sumrall, Kentucky’s inside linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator. “Chris was uniquely gifted. He’s long, rangy, could run really well. In coverage, he did some stuff very easily because of his length and athleticism.”

Said Davis: “We can talk for hours about how good a player Chris was. I remember the Belk Bowl. … It was like, man, this mofo is going to the league.”

That was Oats’ dream since he was young, he said via text. In fact, Davis said he, Oats and Square — a senior at Kentucky — used to discuss becoming first-round picks. Right before the 2020 draft, the three were on a group text vowing to have their name called in future years.

Sumrall called them the three amigos.

“I wasn’t out at the bars and partying or anything like that, so when I came across someone extremely similar to me in a lot of ways, I instantly clicked with Chris,” Davis said.

They would talk, play video games (Fortnite, Madden and NBA 2K) and go to Buffalo Wild Wings once a week. Davis would order the boneless wings with barbecue sauce, mostly to provide more choices to the table. Oats would order barbecued chicken and potato wedges with cheese and bacon. Square opted for the garlic parmesan.

“I get memories on my Snapchat all the time,” Davis said, “from when we were sitting in the locker room laughing or playing videos of Square dancing and me and Chris making fun of him. Outside of ball, all just going over to his house and playing video games or watching film together. Things like that made us closer.”

Which made their next chapter more difficult.

Making Oats proud

The stroke occurred two days before Mother’s Day in 2020, while Kentucky’s players were at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. Sumrall informed his players, dispensing whatever information he could that Gamble OK’d. Players eventually realized the severity of the situation.

“I thought it was a sick joke,” Davis said. “Then my thought was, ‘Is he OK? Is there any way we can see him?'”

Sumrall noticed an almost immediate change in Davis when they returned to campus. His practice effort was never in question, but he started watching more film — sometimes arriving a half-hour or 45 minutes early before meetings.

“It became like a snowball rolling down a hill,” Sumrall said. “Every day he came into the meeting room with more intentional focus than ever before.”

Davis felt it, too.

“It was like a reality check,” he said. “Going forward we knew [Oats] wouldn’t want us to sit around bummed out about the situation and feel pity or anything like that. So in my mind it’s like you’ve got to step up and make him proud.”

Square told Davis: It’s your time now.

“He knew what he had to do,” Square said. “We all knew Jamin was probably the best linebacker on the team. He had freakish athletic ability. We always said if he mentally gets the plays down, he’ll probably start over any of us. We were just waiting for him to show it.

“He was ready for the moment.”

Last season, Kentucky would rotate having a defensive player wear Oats’ No. 22. Before a game against Mississippi State, Davis saw the 22 jersey in his locker. He looked to the locker next to him — Oats’ old nook that contained a picture of Chris.

“I said, ‘I’ll do my best to represent you tonight,'” Davis said.

He finished with 11 tackles and an interception.

Kentucky discontinued that practice this season — it became difficult for the Oats family to see the No. 22 on the field. Instead, the team breaks down every practice with a “22!” Everyone has Oats Strong T-shirts made by Gamble; they’re selling hoodies now, too.

Davis wears a 22 Oats Strong band on his wrist, leaving it on for some games. Sumrall said when Oats attends games, he takes the freshmen over to see him; he wants them to know someone who he said “will forever be a Wildcat.”

‘This is not your end’

While it’s a constant battle for Oats, he isn’t jealous of his friend. He watches Washington’s games when he can and seeks out YouTube highlights. He will text Davis reminders to play fast, play smart. They text weekly; sometimes Davis checks in with Gamble. Oats said Davis’ effort is there and “he just needs more time on that level.”

“I’m not the selfish type,” Oats said. “He got there because he is a freak athlete and his talent, and what I’ve learned during this hard time is that I will get there. It will just take time.”

Oats was the one who pressed his family to watch the draft. They wanted to support Davis.

“We talked to Jamin before the draft,” Gamble said. “We’ve always been supportive of everything, so [Chris] never felt, ‘Man, that should have been me.’ When Chris was able to talk after his stroke, or text, he told him, ‘Go out and ball, this is your time.'”

But there is a definite understanding of his own situation.

“He knows where he could have been to change all our lives,” Gamble said. “But I explained to him: As a mom, you being here and being able to touch you and not being six feet under — because we’ve lost so many people this year — that’s all I need. He’s an awesome kid; never in trouble. He went to school, got his scholarship and went to class and to be a year away from your dream and something like this happens, he doesn’t understand what he did wrong for this to happen to him. That’s where we encourage him and let him know, ‘This is not your end; you have a bigger testimonial in your life.'”

Oats has 100% control of his right side and has increased his left side to 50% — it was 40% just a month ago. He’s able to stand on his own and they’re working on strengthening his core to help him walk again. For now, he’s doing occupational therapy twice a week, allowing him to slowly regain independence. They would like to get him into a physical therapy facility that deals mostly with athletes, key for his 6-foot-3, 227-pound frame.

He attended Kentucky’s home games this season and saw the Wildcats play Georgia last year. His mom found it too tough to attend last year, but has gone this season. She reads her son for clues as to his emotions.

“I make sure I pay attention to his eyes and facial expressions,” she said. “I can tell when it’s too much. He does this thing with his eyes, they get real big and he bites on his fingernails. He’s been like that since he was a kid. That hasn’t changed since the stroke. When he’s getting ready to tear up or holding back tears, his eyes get big.”

He’s constantly watching games, whether of Kentucky or other teams, and he attends high school games on Friday nights. Oats said he tries not to cry while watching games, “but I do get in my thoughts.”

When that happens, he said he turns to a prayer from the book of Isaiah: “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”

He needed that prayer the first time he watched an NFL game after the stroke. He told his mom: “I should be playing.” She said: “Just get healthy; it’s a blessing you’re alive. Football is just a job; it’s not who you are.”

The simple things

Gamble needed to quit her $11-an-hour florist job to take care of her son full time. She also moved the family into a larger apartment, though that increased her rent by $400. Her 26-year-old daughter, KeAirra, also helps, and Davis has chipped in. Insurance pays some of Oats’ medical costs and a GoFundMe has raised more than $150,000 that helps with living expenses and allows them to buy a custom-made van.

Gamble proudly says they live within their means. But she does splurge for him once a year when it comes to sneakers. She would take some of her tax return money and buy him a pair of size 15 LeBrons, something she did again this past spring for $189. Though he’s still on scholarship and gets shoes from Kentucky, he uses these in therapy.

“I don’t spoil him or give everything he wants,” she said, “but the simple things that people take for granted is joy for him.”

Oats wants to become an announcer or a coach; he wants to stay around the game. He wants to get back to himself.

“Football is his first love, and it hurts,” Gamble said. “I tell him to talk it out. He has anxiety over things. It was rough. This is a rough season for us, but he’s making it.”

Last month, Oats posted a picture on Twitter of himself, Square and Davis from a practice. Oats is sitting on the ground, his boys on either side. They are smiling. Sometimes he posts photos of the past; sometimes it’s of the present.

But Davis said he doesn’t need the photos to remember Oats’ impact. He thinks of Oats, whether it’s at practice or even on game day: “All the time; literally, it’s all the time.”

“It’s a constant reminder that this could be taken at any given moment,” Davis said. “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t go out and play like every snap will be your last. You should be early to meetings, doing whatever you can to go out and play ball and have fun. … The only thing you can do in this situation is make him and his family proud. We’ll always be close.”

Oats said football remains a part of him. Right now, though, his proudest moments aren’t about his tackles but rather something basic yet profound: “That I will be able to walk and talk again.”



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