OKLAHOMA CITY – Corey Wilson may not be able to run out and catch a pass for Oklahoma. Walking can still be a struggle for the receiver who injured his spinal cord in a car accident last year.
That doesn't mean he can't make a difference for his team and, eventually, for others who find themselves in the same situation.
Wilson is now serving as an unofficial assistant coach, helping to review film and offering his teammates pointers. And when he can, he wants to start a foundation to help people who — like him — are hoping to one day discard their wheelchair and walk again.
"Even if it doesn't happen for me, hopefully the money I can put into things or my foundation and the research that I can fund, if it helps somebody out that's in my situation when I'm gone, that's fine," Wilson said Saturday night before he received a Courage Award from the INTEGRIS Health hospital system.
"As long as somewhere down the road, nobody has to sit their whole life in a wheelchair. Everybody can be optimistic and everybody can be motivated, and be realistic about it."
Wilson remains on scholarship with the seventh-ranked Sooners, and he is pursuing a degree in human relations. He's also serving as an extra set of eyes and ears for receivers coach Jay Norvell.
"He's got a great eye for what's going on with the players," Norvell said. "He'll look at one guy and say, 'Coach, something's going on with him. You need to talk to him.' And I'll pull the guy aside and talk to him. 'This guy, he kind of needs to get it together. He's not really locked in.'
"Boy, he's really got a great sense of that."
Wilson redshirted his first year on campus and never got a chance to catch a pass in a game before he was hurt in an accident on Interstate 35 on Feb. 27, 2009. He flipped over, hit his head and woke up in the grass alongside the road. He had suffered a complete spinal cord injury and was left unable to walk.
Prior to last season, he set the goal of being able to lead the Sooners onto Owen Field before a game. He accomplished that, taking a few steps during the Sooners' senior day ceremony before their game against Oklahoma State in November.
"Those steps on Owen Field meant a lot to the hard work that I did, but that's not where I want to be. Those are steps, but I would like to actually walk," Wilson said. "I'm really optimistic about that. It's 2010. I can't help it. I'm only 21. You can't help but be optimistic.
"The next five to 10 years, there's no telling what technology will do. I'd like to have a part in that. With research and the foundation, I'd like to put money toward doing that."
Norvell said he's glad to see Wilson stay positive even though he may not be progressing as fast as he'd want.
"It's really tough," Norvell said. "None of us want to ever imagine what it's like to be in that situation, but he just wants to walk so badly and he wants to see progress so badly and it just does not go as fast as he wants. He's never going to give up. He's going to keep working, and I'm pulling for him."
Wilson is enlisting the help of his older brother, Travis, who was a top receiver for the Sooners before being picked by Cleveland in the third round of the 2006 NFL draft. Travis Wilson had microfracture surgery on his knee after being cut by Dallas last year and is currently trying to break back into the league.
Among Corey Wilson's ideas for the foundation are to design new wheelchairs and help build rehab centers in areas that don't have them.
"Coming directly out of the accident, I was given a lot of opportunities for rehab and ways to get better. I want to bring that to areas where people may not have that," he said. "I definitely want to do that to help people out."
There's also the possibility he could stick with coaching, something he thinks has come naturally after playing football for much of his life. He considered himself a thinking man's player and would even analyze defenses when playing video games. His understanding of the game only grew as he learned to study film at Oklahoma.
Norvell has even put him to work looking at tape of potential recruits, trying to identify the next batch of Sooners receivers.
"He knows where the players are. He's got a great eye," Norvell said. "I lean on him, and he's going to continue to help us."