DEKALB, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — Improvements have been made in football to help safeguard players against concussions and head injuries, but concussions still happen. Lena native and Northern Illinois University running back Rahveon Valentine knows that too well.
At Lena-Winslow High School Valentine rushed for more than 4600 yards making him the career rushing leader for the entire Northwest Upstate Illini Conference, and he helped the Panthers to a state championship his senior year.
This year Valentine is a redshirt freshman running back at NIU. He appeared in eight games for the Huskies. He carried the ball six times for 26 yards. Those will be his final career stats. Valentine told me he has decided to stop playing ball due to multiple concussions he has suffered both in high school and at NIU.
“With the amount of concussions I have received over just all my life, it’s been over six of them, seven maybe…it’s just the severity,” said Valentine. “I’ve gotten to the point where the risk is too high to keep playing. I don’t know if I get hit one more time I could ruin potentially my life.”
Valentine tells me he still has headaches from his most recent concussion and he’s undergoing physical therapy. If anyone can relate to Valentine it’s NIU head coach Thomas Hammock. He too was a running back for NIU and his playing career was cut short not by concussions, but by a heart defect. He couldn’t play his senior season after rushing for more than one thousand yards his sophomore and junior seasons. Hammock is not only 100 percent behind Valentine’s decision to stop playing…he encouraged it.
“I talked to him face-to-face, man-to-man,” said Hammock. “I said, “I have a son and so I’m about to give you some advice that I would give my own son, and I just said, ‘I don’t feel comfortable allowing you to go out there for the next three years and continue to play.’ It was an emotional conversation.”
After a couple days of thinking over the situation Valentine told Hammock that he was finished, but Hammock wasn’t about to turn his back on Valentine, so he asked Valentine to remain with the team as a running backs coach.
“I said, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to help you become a coach’. So he took a couple days, he thought about it. He came back and said, ‘Call me Coach V’. So that’s what I call him now Coach V.”
Valentine says he never planned on being a coach, but he has been told numerous times in recent years that he would make a good one.
“Growing up everybody, I mean coach ‘A’ (Lena-Winslow football coach Ric Arand) always told me you should be a coach, you would be a good coach. Coach (Austin) Rickels Le-Win’s track coach he would always tell me that. …so coming here and then him (Hammock) saying the same thing it just gave me that opportunity because of my situation to be a coach and to start learning…start learning everything.”
“He already told me he wants to coach in the National Football League,” said Hammock, “So I said, ‘I’ll give you everything I know and everything I can teach you to try to help you.”
“He’s going to excel at whatever he decides to do. He’s that type of young man.”
Hammock himself was a running backs coach in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens for five seasons before taking the NIU coaching job in January.
Valentine still wishes he could play, but he sees a bigger picture now..a career that will allow him to touch the lives of other young football players through coaching.
“Hopefully this is God’s plan for me. That’s who I’ve got to trust and it’s maybe what I should be doing all along. That’s the way I kind of have to look at it.”