SAN ANTONIO — At the age of 5, Donovan Dreighton found out he might be decent at football when a neighbor saw him throw one day. It wasn’t long after that he put on pads for the first time and started to fall in love with the game. He carried that passion for football into high school. In the midst of that, he reached a bit of a turning point.

What You Need To Know

  • Dreighton was driving home on July 11 when he was involved in a car accident

  • He broke his back and his neck in the accident

  • Dreighton spent 31 days in the hospital
  • He remains on football scholarship at UIW, with this season being a medical redshirt

“I was almost on the edge of quitting football to be honest with you,” said Donovan. “Around ninth grade, I said if I’m going to do this, I have to take it serious. They were trying to get me to play basketball at Brennan and I was like no, I need to focus on football, this is what I want to do.”

The decision worked out pretty well as Donovan became an all-district defensive back playing at Brennan High School in San Antonio. His play earned him opportunities to play in college. He was originally committed to Louisiana-Monroe, but when they went through a coaching change, he decided to take a scholarship offer to stay home and play at UIW.

“Staying in town and staying at home was what’s best for me,” Donovan said of his decision to sign with UIW.

Donovan was living on campus this summer and going through workouts with the team, all in preparation for his first college football season in the fall. Things dramatically changed for him when he was driving back to his dorm one Sunday night in July. Donovan remembers being tired and says he fell asleep while driving home that night and his car went across the highway and ended up on an overpass ramp in a really bad accident. He was quickly taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital.

“I don’t remember breathing much on the way and I felt like our 20-minute ride to the hospital was two hours,” recalls Nichole Dreighton, Donovan’s mother, when she got the call about her son’s accident. “It was horrible.”

Donovan Dreighton's car after his accident.

When she arrived, she found out that Donovan was in pretty bad shape. He had a brain injury with bleeding around his brain. He had multiple spine fractures in his neck and his chest and had a lower spinal cord injury. 

“To hear someone say that we’re doing all that we can, I know that might seem like it’s supposed to be comforting. It’s the most uncomforting message you could hear,” said Nichole.

“I don’t remember too much, I just remember waking up and being like wow what just happened,” said Donovan. “I woke up and I couldn’t move anything. I kind of thought it was a dream.”

His injuries were severe and at first he couldn’t do much on his own, but Donovan would survive the accident. He spent 31 days in the hospital recovering and slowly regained some strength and movement.

“I was kind of sad about it at first but I told myself that’s not how I’m going to be like the rest of my life,” said Donovan. 

With the help of doctors, the rehab team at University Hospital and Donovan’s overall persistence to fight thought some pain, he made progress, from being able to stand up, to walking with assistance and then being able to get around on his own.

“He’s a very motivated kid, a very smart kid and I think that worked in his favor to get him a lot stronger,” said Dr. Brain Fricke of University Hospital and UT Health San Antonio. “Donovan’s made tremendous progress beyond what any of us could hope for.”

“I tell myself when I look in the mirror, it’s time to go, it’s time to see what you’re capable of,” said Donovan. “I kept trying, I didn’t quit, I wasn’t going to quit. I wasn’t going to quit if they told me to quit.”

Donovan has pushed himself to regain different movements he had lost on a weekly, even daily basis. Sometimes he pushes himself so hard that his parents have to reign him in a little.

“He comes up with new stuff all the time, that we’re like slow down, relax,” said Nichole. “The desire, the commitment, the push, the drive is all still there.”

Donovan is staying at home these days, continuing his rehab and taking college classes. He sees life in a new way after his accident and a different perspective of what’s ahead.

“I shouldn’t be here right now. I shouldn’t be talking to you and doing the things I’m doing,” said Donovan. “God gave me a second chance to go and be a better person than I was before. So I got to take the opportunity.”

“To see my son, 18, have the perspective of someone who’s probably lived life two to three times over is pretty incredible,” said Nichole.

Through this process, Donovan says UIW and his coaches and teammates have been incredibly supportive. The university has honored his football scholarship and placed him on medical redshirt for this season. There is a long road ahead to get back to being on the field but the desire to make that happen is what pushes Donovan every day.

“There’s no doubt. I know for a fact, I’m looking you in your eyes, I know for a fact I will be somebody nobody has ever seen on the field before,” Donovan said. “I made that promise to myself. I got a mentality it’s either win or die. God gave me a second chance so I got to win now.”