A car accident recently put Smith in a wheelchair, but he’s determined to walk again.
Kolton “Kole” Smith was looking forward to playing on Durant’s offensive line for one last year and joining the military right out of high school.
That was before June 29.
That afternoon, Smith’s entire life changed in the blink of an eye. The Durant senior was driving his truck on a wet Keysville Road when he briefly lost control of the vehicle, overcorrected and flipped it. He was ejected from the truck and when he realized what happened he knew he had to get up and call his mom, Nicole Duffey. The only problem was that he couldn’t get up — his back was broken and he couldn’t move his legs to stand, let alone kneel. A nearby driver alerted Duffey and 911. Smith was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital and quickly underwent surgery.
On August 9, Smith described the aftermath of the accident starting with the airlift as “a cool experience.” Duffey would disagree but, yes, that does mean he has a pretty good attitude about his situation.
“Just the fact that I’m still living is a very positive aspect,” Smith said. “It keeps me going because I could have been a lot worse in that accident.”
He won’t ever play football again and joining the military is now out of the question. Because college wasn’t immediately a plan of his — Smith’s goal was to do college after enlisting to ease the financial burden — he’s looking to find a way to make it work after potentially graduating from Durant early. Most importantly, he’s hoping his chance to get out of the wheelchair and walk again comes to fruition. It’s not happening anytime in the near future and it’s not the strongest chance but, with some of his lower body muscles showing signs of functioning, the chance is there.
“In my thighs, a little bit,” Smith said. “I can straighten out my knee on a mat a little bit, so in the future that will help me to get braces and be able to kind of walk. Maybe someday, depending how long my back heals — it takes up to two years — it all depends how my body heals from it. So, good signs, at least.”
Luckily for Smith, his spinal cord wasn’t severed and his only other injury from the accident was a scrape on his bicep. He has no problem moving his upper body, other than the sore back, and constantly looks like he’s ready to jump out of the chair. That won’t be happening just yet, but he is getting good at popping wheelies. As soon as he’s cleared to lift weights, he’ll be in the Cougars’ weight room training with offensive line coach Wesley Wyatt. It pays to stay strong, after all.
Community support has also been strong. To be specific, it’s been #KoleStrong. A GoFundMe has raised more than $8,000 of a $10,000 goal to help Smith and his family with medical expenses and home remodeling. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s of Plant City has planned a fundraiser for Smith the evening of Aug. 30 and #KoleStrong shirts are being sold online. Durant’s football team has rallied around him, naming him a team captain for the 2018 season. Members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization sent him encouraging videos after the accident and, on Aug. 6, he and many of his fellow Cougars were general manager Jason Licht’s guests at the Bucs’ practice. He met tackle Donovan Smith, who gave him a No. 62 jersey with “Smith” on the back that was eventually signed by many Bucs players and personnel. The highlight was when the Bucs players left the practice field and, one by one, came up to Smith to shake his hand and say some words of encouragement.
It’s not a guarantee that Smith will walk again. But with a strong mentality and strong support from his family, girlfriend, fellow Cougars, the local community and even the pros of the NFL, he’s determined to live the best life he can.
“It really just gives me stuff to do so I’m not sitting at home, being bored and thinking about stuff,” Smith said. “It encourages me to be positive.”