LIZTON - He didn't catch it at first. In fact its rolled off the tongue so smoothly of late that it passes without notice.
"These kids have earned it, they've definitely earned it," said Cody Coll when talking about the Tri-West football team.
The statement itself wasn't puzzling, it was just the second word: "Kids." Sitting in the high school's gym just before the Bruins' football practice, Coll did so as a senior an not an adult
"Yeah, yeah it is," said Coll when it was pointed out to him that he didn't use "we" or "us", which would be typical of a high school athlete talking about a high school team. "You know, they're still my classmates, there still my buddies."
Truth be told, they are. But when Coll made his way from the Tri-West gym to their fieldhouse for an indoor practice on a soggy Tuesday afternoon, there wasn't a pad, jersey or helmet on him. Instead it was a long sleeve blue shirt and jeans, with a list of offensive plays on a sheet of white paper.
"It was a little uncomfortable," said Coll of his new role with the football team. "I was very hesitant about saying stuff to someone or trying to coach a kid up."
The buzz word this time is "Coach." That's why Coll used the term "Kids" early on.
The senior at Tri-West-who was an accomplished running back for the Bruins for his first three years in school-has taken on the unique role of student-coach for the 2012 season. It was not a move made by choice but rather necessity.
"Immediately when I found out I knew I was going to be out on the field, still going to be at practices," said Coll when he was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation after his junior football season. "It wasn't an option to not be a part of it in my mind."
But it was his brain that would keep him from being an active part of the team. Chiari Malformation, per the Mayo Clinic, is a condition where part of the brain and the brain stem extend into the spinal canal. Coll had the typical symptoms: Pain that last longer than the games, more of it when he was hit in the head or shoulder area.
They began in his sophomore season and progressively got worst as a junior as Coll was carrying the football for Tri-West while also doing some competitive Bull Riding in the off-season. A visit to the doctor revealed the condition, which effectively ended his contact sports career.
"It took a while for it to sink in," admitted Coll, who was diagnosed after his junior season.
Time would eventually conjure up the consequences of the malformation, considering that Cody was an active football and bull riding participant since he was a child.
"Contact and collisions never really affected him. He wasn't a kid that was affected by fears or things," said Cody's father Chuck, who is the football coach at Tri-West. "He was just an outgoing, physical type of kid in everything that he did."
Now having to be the complete opposite, Coll had to find a way to stay active with the footbal team without stepping onto the field. Hence the idea of coaching was floated.
"I don't think it was something discussed," said Chuck Coll of the idea of Cody coaching. "I think we all just expected it. He's grown up with this program and we've got a lot of coaches that have been here for a long time.
"So I think everybody, myself and the other coaches just assumed this is what we do."
Cody jumped in immediately. He starting working mostly with the running back and the defensive back since they were the positions he played. While not struggling with the particulars of coaching, Coll had to deal with the prospect of being an authority figure to players who were at or just below his age.
"It wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be but at the same time it was difficult because those kids you got to class with hang out with on the weekends," said Coll. "So trying to look at them from a coaching aspect was definitely different."
Time made it more comfortable for Cody, who would aid the coaching staff during a 7-2, Sagamore Conference Co-Championship season. On gamedays, Coll would be next to his dad for most of the contest sending in the signals for the offense.
"As a coach he's enthusiastic, he makes sure we are ready for our task, we're focused every week, we're ready to go," said senior and close friend of Coll Mitch Alexander. "He wants us to make sure that we're not taking anything for granted because things we're taken from him."
According to Chuck Coll, however, Cody's age actually helped to give an edge to an older coaching staff.
"He is able to provide insight, he provides insight to me, Coach Farmer our defensive backs coach, he works with him a lot," said Coll. "He's been on the field, he's experienced it recently and us old guys sometimes forget what that's like as a player.
"So that's a lot of insight into what we're doing and what we can expect and how we can go about making changes and adjustments."
While coaching in itself was just that for Cody, he hopes in the end it will be his way to help his team without carrying to ball or making a tackle.
"To feel like you contributed to the team would be the goal from a player even as a coach," said Coll. "So if I can get to the end of the season and look back and say 'I did everything I could to help this team out' that would be a great goal to accomplish."
The "Kids" would probably agree.