Etheridge was seriously injured while making a routine tackle during the first quarter of the 2009 Ole Miss game. The hit left him with a cracked fifth vertebra and torn ligaments in his neck. Doctors said he had maybe a 10 percent chance of playing football again.
Etheridge wore a neck harness for months and went through an extensive rehab to be able to return to the field for his senior season. He played in all 14 games in 2010, helping to lead Auburn to the BCS National Championship.
“I knew what that team had, and I didn’t want to watch from the sidelines,” Etheridge told TWER in 2011. “I kept it in my head that I was going to come back. I just kept moving forward.”
Since leaving Auburn, Etheridge signed as a free agent with the Oakland Raiders organization. He remained with the team for one season. He served as a graduate assistant coach at Penn State during the 2012 season, and is currently coaching secondary at Georgia Tech.
“Every day I wake up, I try to be the best I can and live the right life to show people anything is possible if you keep the faith and work hard.”
Established in 2012, the James Owens Courage Award is “presented annually to a current or former Auburn football player who has displayed courage in the face of adversity, distinguishing himself while contributing to the betterment of Auburn University,” according to Auburn’s website.
James Owens was Auburn’s first black football player. You can read a story Auburn defensive end LaDarius Owens, James’ nephew, wrote about his uncle for us last year here.
Related: Picture Day — James Owens.