Football is completely changing the lives of this young man with Asperger's Syndrome and his family for the better

Miracles elevate Salem Hills Skyhawks on and off the field

By Amberli Nelson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Oct. 17 2013 10:05 a.m. MDT

That’s what grateful mothers do.

Along with the gratitude, Jill also has a new-found hope for her son’s future.

For most of his 16 years of life, Sabin has been going to myriad doctors, counselors and therapists, all trying to help him deal with his debilitating diagnoses. In addition to Asperger’s Syndrome, Sabin also suffers with bipolar disorder and depression. Just one of those conditions can be debilitating, but all three simultaneously can be deadly.

Jill remembers well the day she was reading a book about these conditions in adolescents. Toward the end of the book she read the life expectancy for kids with these particular diagnoses is around 19 years because suicide is a very common outcome.

She could see her son spiraling further down into depression with the passage of each year, but she felt helpless to do anything about it.

In addition to the high rate of suicide and depression that comes with Sabin’s condition, doctors also told Jill that due to the Asperger’s, her son would not have the ability to feel or express emotion — at least not in normal ways.

It turns out that the doctors were right about that one. Well, until football came along that is.

Now he is known, both on and off the field, as the kid who is all smiles and hard work.

“Sabin’s been a tremendous asset to the team this year,” said Salem Hills assistant coach Chauncy Thornton. “He’s not only a great kid, but he works hard, does anything we ask and is grasping the game of football. He’s also got a nose for the ball and you can’t teach a kid that.”

As for the changes he’s seen in Sabin from the beginning of the season until now, Thornton said, “The other players have embraced him and are always talking him up and giving him encouragement. That has given him a lot of confidence and now he’s encouraging others, he’s very talkative and always smiling. He’s a new kid.”

Sabin has a lot to smile about these days. He gets to spend a couple of hours every day with a slew of new friends doing what he loves best about football.

“Tackling. That is my favorite part,” said Sabin through a big toothy grin. “It feels great to get in there and tackle people. Also, I love that I have made a bunch of new friends, too.”

That’s ironic because, as he tells the story, it was his old friends (the one or two that he had) who were the reason he went out for the team in the first place. According to him, he grew tired of them saying he “could never make the football team.” So, he decided to go out and show them just how wrong they were.

Fast-forward five months. Sabin, now a junior, is down on the sidelines fist-bumping and chest-thumping with the best of them — something Jill never thought she’d see. That is why she sat on the bleachers in a recent game between fierce rivals Salem Hills and Springville and wept at the miracle she witnessed on the field.

Just a dozen yards from where she sat, the Skyhawks staged one of the most thrilling-to-watch comebacks in recent history. By all accounts, it was nothing short of miraculous.

Down 27-0 at halftime, Salem Hills went into the locker room as one team and emerged as another. Whatever was said in those scant few minutes may never be known, but the effect may not soon be forgotten by those who witnessed the dramatic transformation of a team that spent the whole first half playing listless, scared and tentative, and then playing the second half confident, smart and inspired.

The Skyhawks, clearly overwhelmed by Springville’s first-half dominance, played as though they were 1-6 instead of 6-1. Nothing went their way the first half and they didn’t seem to care.