One day at a time

By The Associated Press
Updated: July 29, 2010

HAMPTON, Va. — Vaughn Mansfield had big dreams — and still does.

A decorated college football player at Hampton University, Mansfield was one of 1,072 students who donned caps and gowns during the university’s commencement exercises in May.

Unlike he envisioned the day being; however, he sat among his peers in the graduating class in a wheelchair, the result of a life-threatening automobile accident two years earlier.

A native of Washington, D.C., Mansfield enrolled at Hampton in 2005 with every intention of rocking the college football world. He was a budding free safety who would go on to rank among the team’s top defensive players in 2007, his senior season.

Mansfield’s prowess on the field and the accolades that came with it, made playing in the NFL a reality. Getting drafted, however, was a remote possibility.

“I was friends with Lawrence Taylor,” Mansfield said. “He told me it would be hard for me to get drafted, but he said Bill Parcells would help me with a free agent contract.

In hopes of ultimately getting the chance to play in the NFL, Mansfield journeyed to Miami to begin his pre-draft workouts early in 2008. On a day in which the city received torrential rainstorms, Mansfield left a friend’s house and was heading to another local residence when the car he was driving hydroplaned off the highway.

For the moment, Mansfield was shaken but not seriously hurt. He managed to walk away from his car, only to return to retrieve his cell phone.

“I went back to the car to make a call, but my phone was under the passenger’s seat,” Mansfield said. “I leaned over to get it and another vehicle hit my car.

I was in a coma for four to six weeks after that.”

The injuries Mansfield sustained were substantial. He had injuries to his left hip, scars on his face and the impact of the collision caused him to bite his tongue in half.

Most severe, however, was a bruised spine and a traumatic injury to the brain. Mansfield’s injuries required immediate multiple surgeries on his back and brain. A monitor had to be placed in his head to monitor brain activity.

The long road to recovery was a difficult one, both physically and emotionally.

“Some doctors told me that there were things I would never be able to do, but I’m doing a lot of those things now,” Mansfield said. “A man will tell you that you can’t, but God is not a man.”

Mansfield, who started playing football at the age of 8, is at ease with the challenges he has had to face. He said the biggest lesson of life he has gotten from his ordeal is developing a never-say-die attitude.

“Don’t ever give up,” he said. “I was committed to finishing school. There was no way that I was not going to finish.”

Mansfield’s parents, Valerie Neal and Aaron Mansfield, say their son’s tough demeanor has been an inspiration to them.

“I’m very proud of Vaughn, I’m excited that he hasn’t given up and I’m happy that he worked hard to make the trip to his graduation,” Neal said. “I’ve always told him to pray, to keep his hands in God’s hands and to never give up.”

Aaron expressed similar sentiments. “It meant everything to see him graduate,” he said. “Our expectation was for him to be in the NFL. That was our plan, but it didn’t turn out that way. The important thing is that he’s not using any type of medications.”

“He has never quit. I’m so proud of him.”