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Admiral Farragut center's passion for the game is in focus

As Corey Luckenbill prepares to snap the football, he can feel the laces between his fingers. He can hear his teammates' shouts, smell the sweat and freshly cut grass.

What the Admiral Farragut Academy reserve center cannot do is clearly see the players around him.

Corey, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound sophomore, is legally blind.

He was born with stationary cone dystrophy, a congenital eye disease that affects the cone cells in the retina. He has 20/400 vision, which means he can only see objects close to him, and he is highly sensitive to light. He wears sunglasses day and night to protect his eyes.

So what spurred him to spend time on a football field?

"I usually try to do the things everyone else does," Luckenbill said. "I try not to do anything different, try not to limit myself."

While his parents, Kraig and Michele, do not have the disease, his sister Madi, 22, does. His brother, Casey, is a senior at Admiral Farragut and played football until a season-ending knee injury in the spring.

Corey has always tried to emulate his big brother. If Casey rode his bike through the neighborhood, Corey wasn't far behind.

"Most kids who have something like I do wouldn't be out riding bikes when they are 5 years old," Corey said. "I was just trying to keep up. I've definitely fallen more than enough times. I've hit my share of stuff. What can you say."

And he always kept getting back on the bike.

So when Corey asked to play in a local flag football league like his brother, Kraig didn't hesitate.

"I've always told him, all you can do is live with it," his father said. "You can get out there and try to do the things you want to do or you can go sit in the corner. He's never let it slow him down.''

His brother has always had the same message for Corey.

"There's no choice,'' said Casey, who transferred from Tarpon Springs after his junior year. "There's no giving up."

The disease does come with limitations. Corey will never be able to drive; most days, Casey drives him to and from school. Corey, an above-average student, still must sit at the front of the class to see the teacher, and his handouts must be copied in larger print.

On the football field, he has no peripheral vision. He can see objects directly in front of him, but the farther they move away, the more they just look like blobs of color.

He also has a note from his pediatric opthamologist explaining his disease and how it might be difficult to diagnose a concussion since his eyes do not dilate.

And the Luckenbills are currently trying to get permission from the Florida High School Athletic Association for Corey to wear a tinted visor to further keep light from his eyes. Completely tinted visors are not allowed because trainers have difficulty seeing players' eyes.

Corey has always known about the risks of playing football, but that hasn't kept him off the field.

"I like playing center," he said. "There's not too much running laterally. It's just downfield blocking. That's why I don't play defense. I'm just a mess. I can run around and hit people, but I'm not really worth anything. I'll just be running around not seeing anything and getting hit from the side.''

That's not to say there haven't been incidents while playing the position.

"One time (during a youth league game) I couldn't find the ball on the ground," he said. "My quarterback had to move me around the field so I could find the ball. All that green on the field and I just lost it."

Yet Admiral Farragut coach Ryan Hearn didn't hesitate when Corey asked to come out for the varsity team. In fact, Hearn believes he will make an impact by the time he graduates.

"I could see him being our starting center as a junior or senior," Hearn said. "He's not an overly big kid yet, but I think he could be. And he's not afraid to get in there and hit people."

This season, Corey's play will be limited. The Blue Jackets do not have a junior varsity team, so he will patiently wait for his chance. And when that time comes, he won't take it easy on opponents.

"I've always wanted to show people what I can do," he said. "Some people think it's crazy that I'm playing football, but it's just normal for me."

Contact Rodney Page at page@tampabay.com. Follow @RodneyHomeTeam.

Coming this week

Fall football practice has officially arrived. We're kicking off the new season with daily district and team previews — in print and online at tampabay.com/hometeam — starting Wednesday.

Admiral Farragut center's passion for the game is in focus 08/04/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 5, 2014 1:25pm]
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