Corey Luckenbill, a senior and center on the BlueJacket football team, is a true example of Admiral Farragut Academy’s core value, PERSEVERANCE. Corey, although legally blind, is an asset to the school and team, and has not let his condition control what he can do on and off the field. He was recently featured in the Tampa Bay Times’ Sport section.
ST. PETERSBURG — In 2014, when Corey Luckenbill was a sophomore transfer from Tarpon Springs, Admiral Farragut coach Ryan Hearn predicted he would be the starting center by his senior year. That’s not a bold statement, except when you consider Luckenbill is slightly undersized at 6-foot, 245 pounds.
Oh, and he’s also legally blind.
Luckenbill has indeed emerged as the Blue Jackets’ starting center. He played all seven games of the regular season. He will start at center against Cambridge Christian in Friday’s Class 2A region semifinal.
“I’ve been waiting for this,” Luckenbill said. “I never doubted myself. I expected by my senior year to be playing. I tried to get in there last year but it just didn’t work out.”
Luckenbill 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.
“Sometimes (defensive linemen) will say stuff like ‘Cool visor,’ ” Luckenbill said. “They have no idea why I’m actually wearing it. They think I’m wearing it for looks.”
Luckenbill successfully petitioned the Florida High School Athletic Association to allow him to wear a tinted visor that blocks light from his sensitive eyes. Normally, the FHSAA does not allow tinted visors because trainers cannot see a player’s eyes to check for concussion symptoms. He also wears dark sunglasses while playing.
His first real game action came in the spring game against Berkeley Prep. It was the first time he had actually played at game speed since his freshman year on the Tarpon Springs junior varsity.
“I felt a little bit rusty, but game by game I got back into it,” Luckenbill said.
So how does somebody who is legally blind play football?
Luckenbill says he does it by working every day and staying alert. The eye disease blocks his peripheral vision. Objects in front of him look more like blobs the farther away they get.
Admiral Farragut’s offense relies on a shotgun snap. Luckenbill said he always looks between his legs before snapping the ball to make sure there is a shape (the quarterback) in the middle. Then it’s just muscle memory when it comes to snapping the ball.
“He’s done a fabulous job,” Hearn said. “We haven’t had any snap issues, which we’ve had in the past. He’s just a great feel-good story.”
Once the ball is snapped, Luckenbill prepares to block whoever’s in front of him. And he said he makes sure to be on the lookout for any pass rushers coming from the side.
“I don’t have good peripherals,” he said. “But one of the main things my dad taught me was to keep my head on a swivel. I’ve been playing since the third grade and I’ve always remembered that. I haven’t been blind -sided since little league. I’m just not going to let that happen.”
Luckenbill tries to control as much as he can on the football field. What he can’t control is what happens off it. Unlike his teammates, he will never be able to drive and enjoy total freedom. And unlike a few of his teammates, he will not have the opportunity to play in college.
If the Blue Jackets (3-4) lose to Cambridge Christian (8-0), it will be Luckenbill’s last time wearing pads. But he can take pride in overcoming an obstacle to get in the game.
“I’m enjoying every single day of this,” he said. “I know it’s going to end eventually but I’m trying not to think about it. I’m upset about it, but I knew this was going to happen.”
Contact Rodney Page at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @RodneyHomeTeam.