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By Daniel J. Vance


   Growing up a Cincinnati Bengals fan, it's a bit difficult now also rooting for the Minnesota Vikings. But that's exactly what I'm doing this year because of Vikings kicking coach Doug Blevins, 41, who was born with cerebral palsy and uses on-field a motorized wheelchair. Cerebral palsy usually is caused by brain damage before or at birth and affects muscle coordination.

  "I've liked football since age 4," Blevins said in August during Vikings training camp. "Later, when kids my age were playing football, people in Abingdon, Virginia, got me into a little league program. I was made 'junior commissioner' so I could be involved."

  He used that position well, learning football from a coach's perspective. As a high school student he knew the game better than anyone in town and helped his school coach with game plans and analyzed game videotapes.

  He said, "Football for me growing up was an obsession. I began studying kicking because I realized I needed a specialty."

   After winning a "football scholarship" from a generous Abingdon family, for a time he attended the Univ. of Tennessee. Ultimately he graduated from East Tennessee State Univ., where he was kicking coach two seasons.   

  "In 1988 I started a kicking consulting business and organized kicking camps," he said. "In 1993, a friend of mine contacted the New York Jets and they later hired me as their kicking consultant."

  In 1995 he was hired by NFL Europe to develop its kickers and a year later simultaneously worked as a kicking consultant for the New England Patriots. His big break came in 1997 when the Miami Dolphins hired him as kicking coach, beginning a fruitful six-year association. Now he coaches for the Vikings.

  To people with disabilities desiring a career as a professional sports coach, Blevins advised, "Be sure to study your sport. Make sure you understand it and are good at it. As for professional football, it's a brutal business, highly competitive, and if you have any visions or ambitions getting to this level you have to be very good at what you do. You have to work, work, work, and refine it as best as you can."

  Besides his NFL work, Blevins is president of Doug Blevins Kicking & Punting Inc., a business he founded while at East Tennessee State Univ.

  I just hope the Vikings and Bengals don't play this year.

  For more, see danieljvance.com or www.dougblevinskicking.com