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'He is a success': Autistic teen a big hit for Cardinal Newman football team

State - 9/15/2020

Sep. 15--There haven't been a lot of reasons to celebrate during Cardinal Newman's first two games of the football season.

The Cardinals are off to an 0-2 start after big losses to Augusta Christian and Heathwood Hall. But a heartwarming celebration erupted Friday night in the scaled-down crowd and on the Cardinals' sideline late in the 40-7 loss to Heathwood.

Defensive lineman Ethan Collins was the reason behind of that celebration. The senior, who has autism, was inserted into the lineup for the second straight week. And for the second straight week, he made a play to remember.

Collins tackled Heathwood running back Walker Draffin for a short loss on the play with four minutes left in the game. He also had a tackle in the team's opener at Augusta Christian on Sept. 4.

"You see the excitement and in the end that is what is all about," Cardinal Newman coach Doug Dutton said, "guys having fun and experiencing that joy. I'm proud of him. That was the highlight of the night for us. Good to see his hard work pay off."

Collins was mobbed by teammates after his tackle. Heathwood Hall players also clapped and cheered after the play.

Before the game, the coaching staffs agreed to let Collins make a tackle if the chance came. Cardinal Newman assistant coach Corey Jenkins walked Collins into the huddle and gave him instructions before the play.

About 20 minutes after the game ended, Collins emerged from the Cardinals' locker room, grinning from ear-to-ear about the tackle.

"It was a total rush. It was like I was the most important dude on the team. I was the man, I was the boss," Collins said.

Matthew Collins, Ethan's father, was in the stands Friday night for the game and stood a few feet away watching his son talk to reporters afterward. Matthew said his son, who was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old, tried playing other sports. It was football that gave him new-found enthusiasm.

Ethan Collins is in his first year at Cardinal Newman. He and sister Danielle attended St. Anne and St. Jude's in Sumter before the school closed last year.

Cardinal Newman athletic director Will Eudy drives the bus to pick up kids in the morning and Ethan Collins is usually on his bus each day. Eudy wasn't sure what to expect when he saw Collins going into the game last week against Augusta Christian, but said Collins' joy has been fun to watch on and off the field.

"Really cool moment. Coach Jenkins and Dutton have really taken him under their wing," Eudy said. "It is an example to the kids to work hard. You saw him celebrate. He has never done something like that before. It is a story for everybody."

Matthew Collins said he's grateful for the Cardinal Newman community and team for embracing his son since arriving on campus. Collins didn't join the team until school began Aug. 25.

"Happy to have a team experience. Always wanted Ethan to have full inclusion of the high school experience," said Matthew Collins, a retired officer in the Army. "He has really enjoyed it. He is acting like a different kid. He gives it all and leaves it all on the field. "

Matthew Collins said his wife, who died in 2014, always wanted her son to have be a part of all classes in school and do the best he could. Ethan is doing just that, and his father is excited to see what the future holds for him after he graduates high school.

"He is a success. He is a senior and we are going to see what his opportunities are after high school for college or some kind of skill or trade," Matthew Collins said. "He surprises me every day. You get worried because I'm not going to live forever and what is my kid going to do after I am gone? He just shows me every day I don't have to worry about him on his own."


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