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RIO VISTA (CBS11) — A brutal hit nearly left him paralyzed, but a Rio Vista High School football player made an emotional return to the sidelines on Friday night.

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Tucker Downs severed a nerve in his spine when he was hit during a game back in September. Despite his serious injury, Downs managed to fight through recovery and join his team just hours after being released from the hospital.

“I told my team I was going to be there, and they supported me when I was in the hospital,” Downs said. “[It’s] time for me to go support them.”

Downs remains in a wheelchair to get around for now. His legs have not quite healed enough yet to handle his body. With the help of a walker, Downs practices his steps and relearns something he was taught as a child.

“He was a normal 18-year-old,” said Tina Cumins, his mother. “Here he is relearning how to walk. It’s just hard.”

But through the strength of an entire town’s support, Downs is making his return despite what doctors are telling him.

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“If I play contact sports again, I could be paralyzed,” Downs said. “I think they’re wrong. I’ll be back.”

While the pads and helmet are gone, the presence of Downs on the sideline was felt Friday night as his team took on Mildred High School.

As he watched intensely from the bench, Downs was reminded he still loves the game of football and does not blame the sport for his injury.

“It’s no different than getting into a car. It’s just a freak accident,” Downs said.

Doctors have told Downs it will be at least a year before he fully recovers. Downs is hoping it happens faster, so he can still have time to play baseball.

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