KEWANEE – Rahveon Valentine was surrounded by a supportive community this weekend, something that was needed for a hurting Northern Illinois Huskie who had been dealt a poor hand of late.
A recent conversation with Huskies coach Thomas Hammock spelled the end of his playing career, because of persistent concussions.
“It was a hard conversation,” Valentine said at Lena-Winslow’s 44-30 Class 1A semifinal win Saturday over Annawan-Wethersfield. “Emotional. I sat back for a few days and talked to my coaches, parents, friends. They all told me the smart thing to do. Health is bigger than football.”
Valentine, after suffering what he described as easily his worst concussion, estimated he had suffered six or seven of them dating back to third grade, including at least one from his wrestling days.
“The risk has gotten too high to keep playing again,” Valentine said. “I guess at this point, I’ve just got to trust God, and this is his plan for me.”
Hammock extended Valentine an offer to be a running backs coach. Valentine considered and came back with a resounding yes. He even took on the moniker “Coach V,” thanks to a suggestion from NIU running backs coach Atif Austin.
According to Valentine, a small-town kid adored by the surrounding communities about 40 miles northwest of Rockford, he has felt supported through a rough time.
“I’ve always gotten so much support from this town,” Valentine said. “I think this town really showed who I am as a person. I had just got here, I think the support stayed there from when I left and went to NIU. The first game [at NIU’s Huskie Stadium] I had, I looked up, and I don’t know how many fans were there from Lena. That just showed a lot of love and support.”
Valentine was appreciative of the scholarship he received in surprise fashion in August.
“Working so hard, working, working, working until I could get that, and having Coach Hammock give me that opportunity and blessing with a scholarship, that was awesome,” Valentine said. “Hard work does pay off, and maybe there’s blessings in disguise.”
Hammock didn’t say whether Valentine would remain on scholarship, but said the Huskies would try to find a way to help him as a coach.
“He was a walk-on initially, but if we can help him, we’ll certainly do that,” Hammock said.
From one opportunity to another, he’s now happy to see a new avenue before him. According to Valentine, he has been told before that he has qualities befitting a coach, but Valentine never really saw them. He just wanted to be a player.
“For [Hammock] to give me that opportunity to coach, I have a lot of respect for him,” Valentine said. “He’s just a straight-up, real dude. He’ll tell you everything straight up. When he told me that, it hurt. But I knew he’s not trying to hurt me. If he had a son that was playing, he wouldn’t play his son, and a lot of parents wouldn’t play their sons.”
Former Lena-Winslow teammates were part of a large outpouring of support for Valentine on social media.
“It hurts to see one of my biggest role models and brother never to strap his cleats again for the game he loves,” Lena-Winslow High School senior Isaiah Bruce said. “He was one of the best to ever wear the black and gold of Le-Win. I know he’ll be as ... great as a coach as he was a player! Stay strong my brother.”
Ronnell Valentine, Rahveon’s brother and a senior on the Panthers now, weighed in as well.
“It’s hard to see [Rahveon] end his dream, short,” Ronnell Valentine tweeted. “Not only my brother but he was my role model. He made me a better player and person as we’ve grown up. As he moves on, I know he will do the same for other players as well. Leave a legacy bro.”