A former Navy football player whose career was ended prematurely after he sustained a brain injury in a car accident said Monday night that he plans to come to Baltimore next week to comfort a former teammate who is now in a coma after brain surgery Saturday.
Freshman slotback Will McKamey collapsed during a noncontact practice in Annapolis and was flown by medical helicopter to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he underwent surgery to relieve a blood clot on his brain.
McKamey, who is from Knoxville, Tenn., has shown “little response” since then, according to his parents.
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"I want them to be positive. My family was pretty negative when I had my accident," Rafi Montalvo said in an interview Monday night. "Everybody was down. It was pretty bad. I want to be able to go up there and say these things to them, so they can have motivation that he will get there, and he will be fine."
Montalvo, who was a promising freshman quarterback when he was critically injured Thanksgiving night in 2012 near his home in Miami, left the academy in January after not being able to continue playing football. He is currently trying to become a competitive college rower.
Montalvo said that he has written a “three-page letter” that he hoped to send McKamey and his parents to offer his support and detail what he did during a lengthy recovery and rehabilitation process that eventually led to his return to the academy last summer.
“I know his family supported me through my ordeal,” Montalvo said. “I wanted to go up there and help. You have to keep faith and keep positive and everything’s going to be OK. I know my family was devastated and went through very hard times [when he was injured].”
Montalvo, then 19 years old, sustained serious head injuries when he was a passenger in a car that drove into a house "at 70 miles an hour" on a dark and foggy street in Miami.
“Obviously, the doctors were wrong about what they thought I was going to be, and the end result,” Montalvo said. “They told my parents there was a 95 percent chance I was going to be a vegetable.”
Montalvo said that he was aware of the fact that McKamey had sustained a brain injury during a high school playoff game a few weeks before his own car accident. After McKamey came to the academy last summer and Montalvo returned, the two discussed their respective brain injuries.
McKamey became something of an inspiration for Montalvo in his own comeback.
“There were two different situations. Mine was a car accident and his was from football, but my brain was bleeding like his brain. I saw him coming back and getting cleared and playing football,” Montalvo recalled. “All throughout fall, he was fine. I thought I should be able to play, too."
McKamey's parents said in a statement released by the Navy athletic department that their 19-year-old son had collapsed during a light workout Saturday. They also said that he had been cleared to play by doctors in Tennessee after undergoing "4-6" CAT scans and MRIs following the first brain injury. McKamey did not have surgery that time.
Montalvo’s Navy football career ended when doctors at the academy refused to clear him to return to the field despite the fact that he had passed a battery of cognitive tests. Montalvo then left the academy with hopes of playing elsewhere, but gave up his quest when doctors in Miami recommended that he not play again.
After hearing from his former teammates shortly after McKamey collapsed Saturday, he thought about their burgeoning friendship.
“I was just getting to know him, and we were becoming pretty [close] friends when I left,” Montalvo said. “He’s a really good kid. He was kind of like me. I’m kind of a quiet person, and he’s kind of the same way. He kind of reminded me of myself. He was a really hard worker.
“You need to have some good fortune with this injury. I remember when I came back, coach [Ken] Niumat[alolo] was saying that I was a miracle. I didn’t want to look at it like that. Hard work got me to where I’m at. All the work did, all the therapy I did.”
Montalvo said that his letter to McKamey and his family is about "just having faith, being positive, that everything's going to come out OK. No matter how bad it is now, the end when he gets out of the hospital, you can fully recover with the rehab. I wanted to let them know how I recovered, and how Will needs to come back from this."
Though he initially had hoped to play football again, Montalvo has stayed involved in the game by helping coach the quarterbacks at his former high school and has stayed active by throwing himself into a new sport -- rowing -- in which he hopes to compete on the club level at nearby Florida International.
"I felt like I really needed to do something to keep my mind busy again," Montalvo said. "Football I really loved, and it kept me busy and working hard all the time. I feel rowing has been a huge part of my family as well [a younger brother will compete at Georgetown in the fall]. It took me six days to learn how to row. It usually takes people months."