If you watch Mt. Juliet Christian Academy freshman Andrew Kittrell play football it can be hard to tell him from the rest of his teammates.
That is, until his leg comes off.
“When it gets to sweating when I’m running the ball if someone tackles me and grabs my leg, I will slip right out of it,” Kittrell said. “I’ve thought about (playing a prank). Sometime this year if someone does it I was just going to sit out there and start screaming and make a big deal out of it.”
It wouldn’t be the first time his leg came off in a game.
“When he was in fifth or sixth grade, we were playing Goodpasture in a scrimmage and they went to tackle him and pulled his leg off,” father Mike Kittrell said. “The kids’ faces were just the funniest thing ever.”
Andrew Kittrell was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, resulting in the loss of his left leg below the knee and a right club foot. It also affected fingers on both hands and resulted in seven surgeries before he was 12.
The numerous surgeries haven’t slowed down the soon-to-be 16-year-old. He plays football, basketball and runs track for the Saints.
Heading into the last game of the season on Friday night, in just his first year of high school, Andrew is leading MJCA in tackles and proving to be a formidable defensive threat.
Like any other leg
Although it’s not permanently attached, Andrew said his prosthetic leg has the same kinds of aches and pains.
“It’s just like anybody else’s leg,” he said. “It has its days where maybe I wake up and I have a sore on it or maybe it’s just aching.”
Sometimes it’s more painful than others.
“Right now his tibia and fibula are fused together so they grow to a point,” Mike Kittrell said. “So when he grows, that point tries to grow out the end of his leg. If he hits it on something it sends him through the roof. It’s very painful.”
Surgery can be done to help alleviate Andrew’s pain.
“Andrew actually needs one more surgery,” his father said. “He’s not weight-bearing on his stump. A lot of people can walk on the ground on their stump if they have the proper surgery done.”
But the surgery is expensive.
“When he stops growing and we get to a point where we can afford the surgery, we will try to go ahead and do it.”
Despite the pain and surgeries, Andrew said he is so used to the prosthetic limb he doesn’t feel like it limits him.
“It’s what I’ve grown up with, and I’ve never known any different, so I don’t even realize it,” he said. “When I go out in public, people look at it, but everybody around here is so used to it, nobody pays any attention to it.”
Love of the game
Andrew said football is his favorite of the three sports, and the reason is typical for that of a middle linebacker.
“I love hitting people,” he said. “I love being hit, it’s part of the game.”
His favorite play is a bit predictable for a linebacker.
“Once they call me for a blitz, it’s game on.”
But at times it was tougher to love football than others.
“I love the sport,” Andrew said. ”But I was one of those people when I was running I got behind… it got in my head because I hate to lose. I hate it.”
Everything changed for Andrew Kittrell when he received an invitation from then-Vanderbilt coach James Franklin to attend a Commodore game and watch from the sideline.
He then was given the opportunity to tour the Titans’ facilities, where a chance meeting changed his life.
At the Titans’ facility, Andrew ran into an old college roommate of former Paralympic athlete Ryan Fann, who introduced the two.
Fann is the co-founder of Amputee Blade Runners, an association dedicated to helping one amputee in each of the 50 states get a prosthesis designed for running. They are not typically covered by health insurance.
Meeting Fann has changed Andrew’s goals.
“I’m thankful that I met him and he got me into running because now I’m working toward the U.S. Paralympic team and I’m pretty close.”
“This year I ran (12.8 seconds) in my 100-meter and it’s a 12.2 to qualify,” he said.
Andrew was invited to the ABR headquarters by Fann to make his very own leg.
“It’s really fun to go in there and see how your leg is being done and then actually get to build it yourself,” Andrew said. “Not many people get to go in and build their own leg and then wear it.”
A running-specialized prosthesis was a much-needed upgrade.
“The first leg I had was like a 2×4,” Andrew said. “There was a piece of rubber on the bottom of it, and it didn’t give me anything. It was just like stomping on the ground.”
The new leg was a game changer.
“It felt like I was floating through the air when I got this leg,” the freshman said laughing. “It was like living a dream.”
Fann and ABR continue to fund his prosthesis and help outfit him with a new socket whenever the old one gets worn out.
“People asked what happened and I was like, ‘I got a new leg.’ It was awesome to know I could outrun and beat people now.”
Inspiration for others
Andrew has used his opportunity to reach others.
He’s begun giving speeches at local churches and youth groups.
And it’s hard not to listen.
“You can’t say you had a bad day,” MJCA football coach Dan Davis said. “Most people fail to realize how blessed you are … then you see someone who doesn’t have all the things you have not just get by, but excel.”
Reach Sam Brown at 615-259-8232 and on Twitter @SamBrownTN.
Family: Dad, Mike, and mom Tammy, brother, Tyler (24), and sisters, Kristin (26) and Caylor (15).
Favorite food: Chicken Alfredo
Favorite athlete: Ray Lewis
Favorite team: Vanderbilt
Favorite movie: Batman the Dark Knight Rises