Jim Harbaugh attends wheelchair-bound teen’s graduation as he promised he would

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

To call what 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh did last weekend an act of charity might be an understatement. For him, it's just following through on a promise to a friend.

Tyler Schilhabel and John Harbaugh at the teen's graduation — Schilhabel family photo
Tyler Schilhabel and John Harbaugh at the teen's graduation — Schilhabel family photo

As reported by CSN Bay Area — and brought to Prep Rally's attention by Off the Bench — Harbaugh flew to Bakersfield following a Thursday team practice so he could attend the graduation of paralyzed teenager Tyler Schilhabel. The Bakersfield (Calif.) Independence High senior first met Harbaugh following his spinal surgery after an ATV accident ended his promising career as a prep quarterback.

Harbaugh, who was the football coach at Stanford at the time, was on site when Schilhabel was awakened from a medically induced coma after his spinal surgery. The coach had heard of Schilhabel's devastating accident in the sand dunes outside the Pismo Beach area and felt like he should visit the teen.

What he found was a troubled football player who had passed for 241 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 51 yards and a touchdown in an Independence victory just two days before the accident.

"I don't think I've ever seen a human being more down, more distraught," Harbaugh told CSN Bay Area. "He was awake, but there was nothing behind his eyes. ... He was talking and he was still very sad. Probably within a week, [I]  saw the hope, the determination, the special gift of personality that he has come back."

49ers and former Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh — Getty Images
49ers and former Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh — Getty Images

Harbaugh and his team certainly played a role in helping inspire Schilhabel to work his way back. Within days after the 49ers coach's first visit he had star quarterback Andrew Luck and other players visit the teen.

Then, in November, a recovering Schilhabel visited the 49ers training center in Santa Clara -- he has also been on the sideline during a game -- and Harbaugh mentioned attending the teen's graduation. Neither side brought up the interaction until March, when Harbaugh texted the teen to ask if he was still invited.

He was, and on Thursday he was there to support a friend who the coach insists has given him even more than he has received from the 49ers and Stanford.

"I feel like I've gotten the long end of the straw in this friendship," Harbaugh said. "He has supported us many times. He's been at the games and he's been out at practice. When we were at Stanford, same thing. […]

"He's just a real special youngster, in terms of charisma, uncommon personality -- he's very special in that way. He'a a very dynamic, inspirational young man. To see him fight through that obstacle and determine he was going to overcome it, that's inspirational."

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