Purple Heart veteran and 26-year-old UCF walk-on Rory Coleman shares his harrowing — and inspiring — journey

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Rory Coleman's story is an inspiration on Veterans Day.

- US Army Veteran, Sergeant Rory Coleman's, journey to become a member of the Knights is inspiring, fascinating, harrowing, and one we wanted to make sure you heard for Veterans Day. Jenny Taft, with the story--




JENNY TAFT: You were there for 11 months and two weeks.

- Almost made it.

JENNY TAFT: Almost made it.

- Almost made the full 12.

- Almost made the full 12. What happened in those last two weeks?

- In the last two weeks, the enemy really ramped up their attack.

JENNY TAFT: Rory Coleman is UCF's 26-year-old walk-on and a decorated veteran of the U.S. Army, but before then, he dreamed of playing college football. Encouraged by grandfather, William Bucky Coleman, a World War II Veteran, Coleman's plans shifted and he decided to enlist in 2010, out of high school.

Why did you want to be a medic?

- I played [INAUDIBLE] in high school. I always had that desire to protect. From what I've read about, combat medic fit everything that I want to do.

JENNY TAFT: After completing basic training and within a year of enlisting, Coleman was deployed to Afghanistan.

- The first firefight I ever experienced was in Thanksgiving. During that time, the shots were going off--

They're in the bush, left and right.


It was like, here we go, here it is. And you never know what's going to happen, if you hear a couple shots, you hear a whole bunch. But it was just kind of like a, here we go moment, all right, this is exactly what you've been training for, let's go, time to rock.

JENNY TAFT: On September 12th of 2011, Coleman was involved in another firefight.

What do you remember from that day?

RORY COLEMAN: Get down, go, go.

Just getting out, there receiving contact, and just kind of moving on the enemy, and kind of pinning them down in one specific location. It was split in half, so we had one team go around the left. I went around the right side, and then that's when we started to get into contact with the guys that were in the basement. And from that point, returning fire a little bit, and at one point, a guy comes up, comes running up out of the basement and the grenade was-- he dropped it next to him. It got pretty intense pretty quick, and then all kind of accumulated into that.

- Hey, check my shoe here.

JENNY TAFT: Coleman was severely injured in a grenade blast, put in a medical coma and woke up nine days later in a military hospital in Germany.

When you saw him, how emotional was that?

- All these things were all hooked up to him, he had lost a lot of weight, he's a skinny little kid there. But I saw him for the first time, checked him out, there's my baby, he's fine. It's all good, this will be all right.

- I made it.

JENNY TAFT: You made it.

- I made it out. The only hesitations and fear were, well, I'm not there anymore. I'm the medic, how are my guys? How are they doing? I got updates from my First Sergeant. He would let me know that everything's fine.

JENNY TAFT: Rory suffered injuries to his left foot, both lower legs and thighs, a fractured right femur, serious damage to his right arm and hand, punctured bowels and small intestines, and an epidural brain bleed. Next came months of physical therapy back in the United States.

- I don't want to say it was hard because a lot of people go through hard things in their lives. This was just challenging for me. For how long it took me to get up and start walking again, let alone jogging and running-- and then going through the intellectual rehab of sorts for the brain injury--

JENNY TAFT: Coleman completed his enlistment and left the army with a commendation medal and a Purple Heart. But something was missing, the dream of playing college football was back.

RORY COLEMAN: I did not want to let these injuries dictate what I was going to do. I had always wanted to play football when I was in high school and once I knew that I could, I had an idea that I could definitely give it a shot. I guess that was the motivation, just don't stop, just keep moving.

JENNY TAFT: That dream became reality. Rory made UCF as a walk on. And last year, for Military Appreciation Day, he led the team out of the tunnel.

- I boo-hooed. I cried. It was awesome. He was excited about the Military Appreciation Day last year. And then when he was asked to carry the flag, that was a big, sincere honor to him.

ANNOUNCER: As the Knights come out of the tunnel, the Purple Heart Army Veteran, Rory Coleman, the walk-on, with the American flag--

- Is Rory a hero to your family?

- Oh yeah. Listen, my dad said, you know, Rory is the accumulation of everything good in a Coleman. He's the new Coleman bad ass in the family.

- Do you have a special message for Americans on Veterans Day?

- I know that none of us that volunteer are going to do it for thanks. But it's absolutely appreciated and I can't be thankful enough that I live in a country where they just treat Veterans with respect, it's wonderful.

- What does the future hold for you, Rory?

- I don't know, wherever the wind takes me. But just know that I'm going to be attacking it with the same mindset and same tenacity that I have and I always will carry with me.

- That attitude and outlook, off the charts. You saw the cast on his hand in that piece. He had a small surgery on his wrist, missed a couple of games. But Captain America, as dad likes to call him, would not let it keep him out of this weekend's activities. On Veteran's Day, he worked hard to get healthy, and is dressing for today's game against Connecticut. Best of luck, Roy