Missouri football team gains perspective with hospital visit

Tuesday, December 31, 2013 | 7:24 p.m. CST; updated 10:05 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 31, 2013

DALLAS, Texas — His bracelet read "Leave Nothing," but Luke Jackson paid the message no mind.

As the Missouri football team departed from the Children's Medical Center of Dallas on Monday afternoon, Jackson — a reserve kicker — left his black wristband with a young man in a wheelchair.

Mitchell Coombs-Solomon had earned the gift. The 20-year-old suffering from a sensory integration disorder kept most of the Tigers players enraptured with his life story for the full hour of Missouri's Cotton Bowl-sponsored visit.

He spoke about losing his ability to walk and the hard work and faith needed to conquer the illness. Coombs-Solomon, who also suffers from autism and dyslexia, has been working on an autobiography that has already exceeded a couple thousand words.

The young man used to play hockey and was a competitive swimmer, but several bad health breaks put him in a wheelchair. At one point, a near-death experience involving intravenous fluids that left him with a "50/50 chance" at survival.

"I thank God I'm alive and for my body responding," Coombs-Solomon said.

When he was finally left alone, defensive lineman Kony Ealy returned to give some advice. The hulking athlete hunched over issuing some quiet instructions.

"Don't let nobody ever tell you that you can't do something," Ealy said in a near-whisper. "You can do whatever you put your mind to."

The moment was one of several touching scenes during the whirlwind visit: A group of at least 10 players formed a conga line to dance with two young girls, some athletes drew pictures for sick children and the seniors went upstairs to deliver autographed gifts to bed-ridden kids.

"This really has made my day," defensive lineman Lucas Vincent said. "I love working with kids, and it's good that we could come out here."

Missouri coaches and players had a full day of meetings, practice and a team picture. The hospital visit was the final stop before dinner.

Two hours earlier, the players were on the turf at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.. Finished with practice and donning the gold uniform tops they will wear in Friday night's game, the athletes laughed, danced and played catch.

Monday was the culmination of a fun weekend that included trips to the mall, a Dallas Cowboys game and, in running back Henry Josey's case, a visit to the spa.

"I'm big on spas," Josey said. "I got a couple of guys and we went to the steam room and chilled. Just talked about things."

Josey has been keeping things positive since the team's Dec. 7 loss in the SEC Championship Game. After the game, he fought back tears in the bowels of the Georgia Dome, but arrived to the bowl announcement party the next day with a smile on his face.

Now that his team's leisurely weekend in Dallas has come to a close, the Angleton, Texas, native felt his team was finally in the right state of mind for the Cotton Bowl.

"It's time to get serious now," Josey said. "We've had our weekend fun. We've had a blast the whole time we've been here. Now, we've got to just stay focused on the game."

If the Tigers needed any extra perspective, they got it in the afternoon with Coombs-Solomon and the kids they met at the children's hospital.

"They were all excited we were here," Vincent said. "You gotta love the kids."

Supervising editor is Wade Livingston

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