TAMPA — Cecil Shorts III doesn’t talk much about his NFL career unless the kids ask.He’s an assistant football coach at Second Baptist School in Houston. Until this year, he had resisted his “calling.” But his father was a football coach. He uncle was a football coach. And having scaled the mountain from Division III University of Mount Union to the league, he felt he had a lot to offer boys going through the most formative years of their lives.“I don’t usually talk about it,” said Shorts, who played six seasons as a receiver for the Jaguars, Texans and Bucs. "The head coach puts me on the spot all the time and asks me to say stuff. I try to have fun with the kids. They ask questions, of course. ‘Who’s your favorite quarterback? What was this guy like?’“I tell them to look it up and ask questions if you want to. I think they enjoy it. I think it’s fun for them to see I’ve got the same interests in life as them.”In 70 games, Shorts had 229 receptions for 2,979 yards and 14 touchdowns. Also, he caught one bad break.“I was always told you go out one of three ways,” said Shorts, 32. “Retire on your own, which very few people get to do; you get cut; or you get hurt.”Football is a collision sport, and players accept that injury is as much a part of the game as the laces on the ball. But there are injuries, and then there are horrific injuries. Occasionally, there are career-threatening, look-away-or-cover-your-eyes injuries, like the ones suffered by Bucs defensive tackle Vita Vea and Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott recently.Vea was lost for the season when, while making a tackle against the Bears on Oct. 8, Bucs linebacker Devin White landed on his right ankle, snapping the leg. Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation to his right ankle when he was tackled by Giants safety Logan Ryan last Sunday. He is out for the rest of the season.Arguably the worst injury by a Bucs player the last two or three decades was suffered by Shorts in Week 13 of the 2016 season at San Diego. In the first quarter against the Chargers, Shorts ran across the middle of the field and caught a pass from Jameis Winston. Almost at the same time, safety Jahleel Addae, steaming toward Shorts from the opposite direction, made a split-second choice and went low toward his knees. Shorts went down as if he had been sawed in half."They said, ‘You dislocated your knee. We’ve got to pop it back in,’ " Shorts said. “I was like, ‘Okay.’ The year before, I dislocated my shoulder and I missed a week. ‘Oh, I’ll be back in a week or so (this time, too). I’ll be good.’ Not knowing I tore every ligament in my knee.”The force of the collision ruptured the posterior, anterior and medial collateral ligaments in Shorts' right knee.Essentially, the only thing attaching the lower leg to the rest of his body was muscle, skin and soft tissue. Worse yet, doctors immediately feared there might be arterial damage.“I didn’t know about that until two years ago,” Shorts said. "I found out later they were in leg-saving mode. They worried about having to amputate."Even in that moment, I didn’t know I had torn everything in my knee. When I got hurt, I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t really in a lot of pain right away until they started jacking with my knee. I said, ‘Hey, could you stop that? That’s hurting!’ "The Bucs won that day — a fourth straight win in what would become a franchise-tying five-game winning streak — and returned to Tampa Bay. Shorts remained in a hospital in San Diego for a week, then traveled to Los Angeles, where his agent lived.“I had to get my first couple surgeries out there,” Shorts said. “I had to come back to Houston and get four or five more surgeries. It’s been a long process. I’m still dealing with it today.”Addae, a former Riverview High standout, was tormented by causing such a horrific injury. He telephoned Shorts at the hospital after the game.“He apologized right after,” Shorts said. "He hit me up on social media, and he kept apologizing, week after week after week. I was like, ‘Bro, what were you going to do? Hit me high or hit me low. Pick your poison.’“It’s part of the game. I can’t get mad at somebody trying to tackle me. That’s an essential part of football. I’d rather he hit me low than hit me high. I’d rather save my brain if I had to pick one. It’s all good.”Shorts never played in the NFL again.He has no bitterness toward how his career ended. He loves coaching football and aspires to be an athletic director and head coach so he can impact even more young athletes.He and his wife had three kids when he was in Tampa. Now they have seven, all 9 years old or younger, including triplet girls.His oldest, Cecil IV, plays baseball and basketball, and runs track. He loves football and will play it one day, but Shorts isn’t going to let him be tackled until middle school.“He knows the game listening to me and playing in the front yard,” Shorts said. “But as far as actually going out there and hitting people and getting tackled, you have to learn that. You need to be able to do that before you get to high school.”Shorts watched replays of the injury to Prescott and cringed. But he was just as nervous for Washington quarterback Alex Smith, who returned last Sunday more than two years after a horrific right leg fracture and subsequent infection.“There were some similarities,” Shorts said. "It’s awesome (Smith) was playing, but I’m watching the game terrified. I’m like, ‘Please don’t get hit.’ "Of course, that’s part of the game. And sometimes it’s why the game is taken away.“You never want to end your career like that,” Shorts said. “But that’s how it goes sometimes.” Contact Rick Stroud at email@example.com or 727-709-5982. Follow @NFLSTROUD.