An on the job accident in July, 2004 changed Kyle Van Houten’s life.
Now, all these years later, the Escalon High alum feels he is finally taking charge of it once again.
He became a staple on the sidelines for the varsity football Cougars as this past season unfolded, encouraging, instructing – and often times even hollering – at the players, who responded well to his style of coaching.
An enthusiastic, emotional, inspirational player when he took the field for the Cougars, Van Houten had graduated and was working in the summer of 2004 when the collapse of a forklift crushed his right leg, requiring amputation to ultimately save his life.
The accident occurred just a couple of weeks before his older brother was to be married and it left Van Houten, admittedly, broken. Not only physically, but also emotionally as he tried to come to grips with the loss of his leg and the ‘get up and go’ lifestyle he was accustomed to living.
To say there were a few dark years in between then and now would be an understatement, Van Houten said, but he said he has found his way back, with the support and encouragement of friends and family and, more recently, his wife.
Finally, he feels he is responsible for his own destiny.
“2017 was a crazy year for sure, I finally finished all the classes and took my credential tests in February, got married to my amazing wife Candace in April,” he noted of the whirlwind year.
He also went through the Live Scan process and application reviews, eventually becoming certified by the California Teaching Commission this past fall.
More ‘hoop jumping’ followed but Van Houten successfully cleared those hurdles as well and was able to help serve on the coaching staff of the varsity football Cougars. He returned to coach with many fellow Cougars and said he was proud to be part of the team’s return to the top of the Trans-Valley League and an opening round playoff win.
“By far the most productive and fulfilling year of my life since the accident and to top it all off, we ended up being blessed with two free tickets to the Super Bowl,” Van Houten explained, with he and his wife making the trip to Minnesota in February to see the game. “Doesn’t even seem real, but my life has never gone as expected.”
Van Houten said he is excited about the future and the possibility of teaching, especially since it was a long road to his degree.
“It took seven years to get a four-year degree,” he said.
After getting through the initial shock and adjustment period after losing his leg, Van Houten said other unexpected obstacles continued to knock him down. But he feels the values instilled while he was growing up took over.
“I played at the greatest public school ever, there’s no way I’m back without being part of that program as a kid,” he admitted. “Those were some of the greatest Friday nights of my life.”
Lessons he learned from the coaching staff of Mark Loureiro, Mike Backovich, Al Caton, Max Goldstein and Ray Scott, he said, helped him persevere and get his life back on track.
“I don’t overcome if I wasn’t part of that,” he noted. “It just took time, but I still got the diploma I wanted to get and I’m still a Cougar; that will never change.”
Classifying himself as a ‘free agent’ right now, he is looking to land a teaching position and also hopes to stay involved with Cougar athletics.
“Before we know it football season will be kicking off again. I think Coach Andrew Beam and Coach Victor Carrillo are dedicated to restore greatness in the program and bring back those big time Friday nights,” Van Houten said, excited for the 2018 campaign. “We’ve got a TVL title to defend now which adds motivation.”
And while he counts his blessings, he said his heart also goes out to the family of the late Josh Korsen, a fellow Cougar who passed away unexpectedly earlier this year while working at a coaching clinic in the Reno area.
“Life comes at you fast,” Van Houten said, noting that things can literally change in a heartbeat. “It all happens for a reason. Your approach and mentality on life changes, but the goals stay the same.”
Admitting that he often felt at times he was living in a nightmare after the accident, Van Houten said late 2017 on in to 2018 truly marked a turning point.
“I feel as if I’m waking out of it (the nightmare) and this is the start of my life,” he said. “I’m coaching the kids of my friends, I’m just finding myself, finding what I’m able to do … I just want to do something positive.”