Wounded soldier fulfills dream of coaching football

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Sergeant Kevin Downs suffered nearly fatal injuries in an attack on his Humvee in Iraq in 2005. Three other soldiers with him died.

When the Harpeth High School Indians take the football field this season, among the coaching staff is an American hero who almost lost his life 10 years ago this week.

Sergeant Kevin Downs was serving in Iraq in 2005 when the Humvee he was riding in with three other soldiers was hit by a bomb attack.

Everyone in the vehicle died, but Sgt. Downs. He survived but lost both his legs, suffered second and third degree burns over much of his body and suffered severe damage to his arms.

He spent three and a half years in a San Antonio hospital.

“Just looking at pictures and stuff of what I used to look like it was tough not being able to move my hands,” he said. “I was thinking I have never known an amputee before.”

He continued, “Not knowing how I was going to adapt from that made it a tough road.”

Sgt. Downs endured more than 77 surgeries and at one point doctors did not believe he would ever walk again because of burns to his skin that they thought would make prosthetics impossible.

“I started doing a little bit and started working at it more and more each day,” he said. “Now legs go on in the morning and they stay on all day long.”

The doctors were even surprised.

“They knew I could do it I am a strong individual but with my skin they didn’t see it,” he said.

In 2009, Sgt. Downs returned to Tennessee for good. He received a hero’s welcome and the support of the community from day one.

Kingston Springs helped build a home for him and many of the school children remember writing him letters in the hospital.

Sgt. Downs grew up in Kingston Springs. He played football, wrestled and ran track at Harpeth High School.

Now he is on campus with another title, coach.

Three years ago Sgt. Downs started volunteer coaching for the football team. This season he is a certified TSSAA coach.

“He is an inspirational guy,” Head Football Coach Doug Loope said. “For him to come back and be able to coach at his own high school especially after everything he has been through is amazing.”

Sgt. Downs works with offense and defense. He also handles the statistics for the team.

“I love it,” he said.

The football players also see how his life story is a lesson for how to handle the challenges they will face both on and off the field.

“This generation of youngsters, I am afraid, is entitled as we call them because they think they deserve everything,” Coach Loope said. “For them to learn to work for something and earn it especially overcoming adversity it is a huge lesson for life and for football.”

James Meeks is a senior running back for the Harpeth High School Indians.

“When we are all sweating and dying we look at him,” Meeks said. “He has been out here and been through a lot more.”

In 10 years since the attack Sgt. Downs has regained his independence and found love. He got married two years ago.

In fact, Meeks is his stepson.

“It is a remarkable thing,” Meeks said. “It is an honor to be coached by him and to have him as a stepdad.”

Sgt. Downs is ready for the future. That includes helping Meeks through is senior year and teaching his youngest stepson how to drive. He will be a freshman this year.

“I used to lie in a hospital bed not knowing what each day is going to bring and now I can see the future and I can start planning for it.”

That includes travel with his wife. Italy is already on the list of destinations.

As for this football season, Sgt. Downs wants a lot of wins and for his players to remember this lesson.

“Don’t give up,” he said. “Get back up and try it again. Just get better each time because giving up is not something you can do.”

Sgt. Downs was awarded the Purple Heart for his bravery in battle in 2006.

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