Editor’s Note: This story is part II of the, “Colton Courage,” story published on The Champaign Room in March 2018.
Nine-year-old Colton Rahn was coming off one of the best moments of his life when he hit the game-winning shot of his youth basketball game on Feb. 10.
The bucket not only signified Colton’s first career points on the basketball court, but also everything he had to overcome to get to where he was on that day.
With cheers of the Illinois Football team behind him and Colton lifted onto the shoulders of his favorite players, it seemed that all the adversity he had faced with cerebral palsy no longer mattered.
But nine days later, the Rahns were hit with a major setback.
Colton suffered his first seizure in three years, causing his right leg to revert back to where it was after the last one. Frustration set in for the Rahn family after seeing all the progress Colton had made over the years just disappear.
Colton hit rock bottom as a result, according to his dad, Jason Rahn. He found it difficult to motivate himself to go through the daily struggle of trying to reclaim his mobility after he had already given it his all for so long.
In one week Colton went from being a hero on the court, to once again dragging his leg like he was back in physical therapy three years ago. The Illinois Football team’s No. 1 fan had his morale crushed.
“You could see the defeat in his eyes,” Jason said.
Desperate to find something to boost Colton’s morale, Jason started the first serious talks of a flag football league in Tuscola, Illinois — a small town 30 minutes south of Champaign.
Playing football has always been Colton’s dream — something that has been deprived from him time and time again — and Jason used it as a motivational tool for Colton. He told his son that the only way he could strap on a flag and hit the field was if he put the work in.
With his dream on the line, Colton did just that.
“We weren’t sure what was going to happen because it literally took away all mobility. It was like he had never been to physical therapy in his life, and he started when he was 15 months old,” Jason said. “Took a lot of tears, a lot of prodding to get him to work that hard again to be able to get the mobility back, but he not only gained the mobility back, he actually gained more than what he had before.”
This increased mobility included a three-leg hop — a milestone for Colton.
While Colton did gain more mobility after his most recent physical therapy sessions, the seizure still had lasting effects on him, causing Colton to start losing sight in his left eye.
Eye surgery will be in Colton’s near future and, dependent on how it goes, this may be his only chance to play the sport that he loves and holds so dearly to his heart.
With that in mind, Jason and Colton’s doctor agreed to postpone the eye surgery, and Jason made sure to take advantage of what time his son still had left to play football.
The people of Tuscola love their football. Whether it’s at the high school, college or NFL level, there is a massive following for one of America’s most celebrated sports.
So when Jason made several social media posts regarding the community’s interest in establishing a flag football league, the responses were positive. There had been murmurs of starting a youth football league in the past, but it never became a reality until Jason and his wife, Katie, took the reins on the project.
Jason managed to set up the league through NFL FLAG — the most recognized flag football league in the United States, which handles expenses in starting a league.
After a three-week registration period, Jason found himself with 70 kids wanting to participate in the inaugural season of co-ed Tuscola flag football, and he was the league commissioner.
Before practices and games started, Jason held a skills training camp on June 9, hoping to show the community the reality of the league.
“I think after today it will open eyes that it is a real program, it has been beneficial to all kids,” Jason said. “It’s teaching them the basic skills, even if they go into tackle football after. They’ll at least have the basics down.”
With the logistics of the league handled, all Jason needed was coaches for the teams, which was not so difficult thanks to Colton’s ‘adopted brothers.’
To find the leaders for his flag football teams, Jason went to social media again. Thanks to Tuscola embracing football, there was no shortage of coaches willing to partake in the league.
Jason got a combination of parents and young adults to help coach his teams, including senior Tuscola High School and potential collegiate lineman C.J. Picazo, who has received offers from Minnesota State and Augustana (Ill.) so far.
Picazo’s high school coach told him that the league needed coaches, and he decided to step in.
“It seems like a great opportunity to help these kids out,” Picazo said.
Twenty-three miles up the road, some players who put on the Orange and Blue uniforms on Saturdays decided they not only wanted to continue to contribute to football on the field, but also on the sidelines.
One of those being a redshirt-junior running back on the Illini, Reggie Corbin. Corbin is the head coach of the league’s Seattle Seahawks — Colton’s team.
Eager to get into coaching this summer, Corbin asked Illinois’ head of player development, Tre’ Stallings, if there were any coaching opportunities in the area. That was when Corbin was turned to the direction of Jason and the Tuscola flag football league.
With an opportunity to coach and help out the community, the Washington D.C. native couldn’t pass up on the offer.
“I’ve always wanted to coach, I want to be a coach one day and hopefully give back,” Corbin said. “I’ve seen a lot of people from my community have been giving back like Kevin Durant and all the Washington Redskins players re-doing all the high school fields in D.C., so I wanted to be a part of that and keep doing something. Champaign has been good to me and Tuscola is good to me, so I want to come out here.”
Corbin won’t be manning this ship alone, having fellow teammates linebacker Del’Shawn Philips and wideout Justice Williams assisting him this summer. Philips is the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks while Williams is the team’s offensive coordinator.
It was a secret to Colton who the head coach of his team was, and Jason wanted it to be a surprise. When Colton first saw Corbin approaching the field, his eyes grew to the size of quarters.
After years of being denied the ability to play football, everything was finally coming into place.
During the flag football skills camp, Colton was holding his own with the constant support of his new head coach in the background.
Still, football isn’t easy for Colton, who can only catch with his left hand due to complications from the cerebral palsy.
Colton, however, went toe-to-toe with the competition in the 1-on-1 receiver drills, making some impressive one-handed catches. He also made defenders miss during the 1-on-1 running back drill.
“He’s very dynamic, did you see him out here in 1-on-1’s... He’s killing it, man!” Corbin said.
Corbin couldn’t help but be taken aback by what Colton is able to achieve on a football field.
“That’s special. He’s a special kid. I’ve been through two shoulder surgeries and that made me want to quit, so if that hasn’t made him want to quit, that’s special. When you see something like that, you can only embrace it because he comes out and is catching one-handed catches and that’s insane to me. I couldn’t catch a one-handed pass until two years ago.
“That’s great to see and I’m glad to have him on my team. He’s going to shock a lot of people.”
Colton is Corbin’s starting center, and the nine-year-old has fully embraced the role. Most teams have been lining up their quarterbacks under center because snapping the ball under shotgun can be struggle for kids of that age — not for Colton.
The Tuscola Flag Football League’s first season officially kicked off on June 16, 2018, and the Seahawks and Eagles played the third game of the day.
Every offensive play for Colton was the same.
He gets down at center, mouth guard in, neon green receiving glove tightly strapped to his left hand and quarterback in the shotgun. When that ball is hiked, a perfect snap is delivered and Colton is off to the races, running his route perfectly into the flat.
Seeing that, Jason is reminded of why there even is a Tuscola Flag Football League.
“This is the whole reason this started,” Jason said.
“Colton plays basketball, obviously... Football is his love.”
For more information on how you can help kids and families like Colton’s, visit the Pediatric Brain Foundation’s website.
Erich Fisher is currently a junior studying News-Editorial Journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is an Assistant Editor and Lead Reporter for The Champaign Room.
The Champaign Room Video Editor Will Gerard produced a short video about the Seahawks, Colton and Corbin after the team’s first game on June 16. The video can be seen below.
.@CPbloggerdad created a @NFLFLAG league in Tuscola, so @IlliniFootball RB @JuicedUpReg decided to try out head coaching this summer #illini— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) June 18, 2018
Relive #ColtonCourage the morning after #FathersDay, and stay tuned for further updates this week (via @WillGerard10): pic.twitter.com/6AUS4y0e2l