Attending a training camp practice is a big deal for most Chiefs fans. But the visit to Missouri Western State University proved extra special for one young man this week.
Former Olathe East High School football player James McGinnis made the journey to St. Joseph with his parents, Patrick and Susan, almost two years after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a game against rival Olathe South.
Now 20, James and his folks waited along the helmet walk to meet offensive lineman Mitch Morse. After a big bear hug from Morse, the two walked up the hill toward the Chiefs’ locker room. Morse provided a little support for James, who still struggles with balance issues.
“I really appreciate how great you and all the Chiefs have been,” James told Morse.
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“The thing is, we’re only as good as the people who support us, so we really appreciate all of you who support us,” said Morse, who led James to a bench where they could sit and chat.
Morse then made a point of introducing James to other players as they walked to the locker room. With big smiles on their faces, Chiefs players bantered and posed for photos with James and his parents and autographed a football they brought to camp.
James showed the players the “I love you” symbol in American sign language — a gesture that he and his family had shared before his injury, and the first movement James demonstrated as he was coming out of a coma after his injury. The McGinnises also shared decals of the symbol with the players.
James said the best part of his visit was getting to meet running back Knile Davis, one of his favorite Chiefs players who played at Arkansas before turning pro. After a big hug, Davis and James compared tattoos.
“Since me and my parents have been Arkansas Razorback lovers, I loved the chance to meet and tease Knile,” James said. “I liked getting to call him The A-Knile-ator —the other players told me that was his nickname.”
Without knowing it, Davis played a big role in keeping James motivated as he healed from his injury.
“When he was going through recovery, James would get so excited to see Knile play, especially against Houston when he took the kickoff return for a touchdown,” Patrick McGinnis said.
James showed Davis how to make the “I love you” symbol with his hand.
“He told me when he makes a big play this season he’s going to do the ‘I love you sign,’ ” said James, a big smile creasing his face.
Former Chiefs linebacker Shawn Barber played host to the McGinnis family. James and Barber served as honorees in May for the 29th Annual Amy Thompson Run benefitting the Brain Injury Association of Kansas and Greater Kansas City.
James has also kept busy taking a few college classes at Johnson County Community College.
“The most elusive thing is his balance,” his father said. “This summer we have been working to focus on that. ... He can see 20/20, but when an object is moving it will come in and out of focus, and that affects his balance. We’re working with doctors to pinpoint the problem.”
James does physical therapy and cross-fit training twice a week, aqua therapy weekly and he is beginning to lift weights again.
“He started in May lifting a PVC pipe … and now he is up to 80 pounds and lifting it up over his head and on his own,” Patrick McGinnis said.
Despite his injury, James’ passion for football has never waned. That was clear as he chatted with the Chiefs players this week.
There was an occasional joke, and James demonstrated his version of the popular game Pokémon Go by poking running back Charcandrick West in the side.
“This was incredible,” James said. “I loved the whole thing. They were all humble and kind.”