Ravens take a flyer on Felix

OWINGS MILLS -- Robby Felix was convinced that a hammer, nails and work boots were in his immediate future, not a football helmet, shoulder pads and cleats. For the all-conference University of Texas-El Paso offensive lineman, the NFL had seemingly become a pipe dream due to franchises' understandable wariness about his health.

Following his final college game last November, Felix experienced a stroke that temporarily left his entire right side numb and tingling. Plus, he was initially unable to talk.

After being passed over in the draft nearly a month ago despite making a full recovery from the stroke, the silence from NFL teams was deafening. That's why Felix was all set to travel to California to begin working for his aunt and uncle's construction business.

Instead, Felix found himself in the Baltimore Ravens' locker room Wednesday one day after being signed as an undrafted rookie free agent and six months removed from a scary, life-altering event that still gives him considerable trepidation.

"It was a huge surprise," said Felix, who was projected to be drafted prior to the stroke. "It was a shock. I sat around for 3 1/2 weeks waiting and I finally said, 'OK, I'm going to get going on my life. I was about to start a job and the Ravens called and wanted me to try out.

"I was packed and ready to go. I'm just excited for the opportunity. I'm really thankful they gave me a chance. It feels really good."

As Felix discussed his difficult path to the NFL, he was standing at his locker stall a short distance away from the shower.

The night following a victory over Southern Methodist University, Felix nearly collapsed in the shower.

Felix had never missed a game in his football career, making 46 consecutive starts. Now, he was suddenly terrified that he might be dying and was unable to tell anyone what was wrong with him.

Numb and tingling on his right side, he jumped out of the shower and found his pregnant wife, Kelly, and she called for help.

"I caught myself in the shower," Felix said. "I almost fell down. I couldn't talk. My wife was there and she called 911 and I was in the hospital for six days.

"I was out of it. I didn't know what was going on. They told me I had a stroke and I didn't even think about what it actually was."

It was=2 0initially thought by doctors that increased thickness in Felix's blood had caused an ischemic stroke where he wasn't receiving the proper flow of blood to the brain, according to published reports.

Felix said that diagnosis was eventually disproven. Today, he's off stroke medication and merely takes one aspirin each morning to operate as a blood thinner.

The reasons behind the stroke, which is the third-leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease and cancer with nearly 144,000 dying from strokes annually, remain unknown.

"They thought that [it was blood thickness] originally, but it comes out it's just a freak deal," Felix said. "We have no idea."

After months of rigorous rehabilitation where the coordination and strength on his right side returned as well as regaining his voice, Felix was able to attend the NFL scouting combine.

"It was three months, four months before I was feeling like myself," Felix said. "I was so young that I recovered quickly."

Despite impressive test results, including 33 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press and a 5.2 in the 40-yard dash, teams weren't very interested.

Prior to the stroke, Felix said that he had been told he could be drafted as high as the third round.

"The coaches I met were fine with it," Felix said of his meetings at the scouting combine. "The GMs and the management were really skeptical about putting me on a team. If I didn't have a stroke, I had a good chance of getting drafted. I was just hoping for a free-agent deal."

Instead, though, Felix's phone never rang until the Ravens gave him a shot.

Now, Felix is looking to become the second player to play in the NFL after suffering a stroke.

Felix has drawn inspiration from talking with New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who had a stroke in 2005 and returned to the football field eight months later.

"He was encouraging," Felix said. "He told me to keep fighting and good things will happen."

As an undrafted lineman, Felix knows he's a long shot to make the team. But he's already beaten extremely tough odds once in the past year. Why not again?

Of course, his family is out one 6-foot-3, 295-pound laborer.

"They were really excited," he said. "They're happy for me."

As the father of a baby girl born in March, Felix is grateful for several reasons.

He has his health, his family and he even has football again.

That hasn't erased the fear of what he's experienced and prays he'll never have to go through again.

To this day, Felix has flashbacks about his stroke, particularly when he's taking a shower.

"I think about it a lot," Felix said. "I'm scared of having another stroke, but I have to fight through it and go on with my life."


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