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Pain and perseverance: St. Louis native Kamryn Babb overcomes 6 knee surgeries to author inspiring football moment

A football phenom out of CBC, Kam Babb's football journey was harder than most. He tore his ACL in both knees, twice, but never gave up his dream.

ST. LOUIS — If you were building a roster of football phenoms from St. Louis in the past 20 years, Kamryn Babb would have to be on it.

From the very beginning, Babb was a star.

“I remember when he was playing for the U City Soldiers and he was doing really well and the coaches kept saying ‘He does stuff with his body that’s not teachable,'" Kamryn's mom, Alana Templeton said. "But he’s 9. Everybody wants to play football."

Everyone may have wanted to play football. But not everyone could play it like Babb.

His star began to shine even brighter at CBC High School in St. Louis, where he saw the field for varsity as a freshman. As he progressed, he became one of the most coveted receiving recruits in the entire country.

“(Kam) was a generational type talent. He was explosive, he could jump out of the building, he could outrun you, he could outmaneuver you, he could outwork you," CBC head coach Scott Pingel said. “A lot of people will say, ‘Is he like Kam Babb?’ Because a lot of people remember him in his high school days. So he still gets a lot of comparisons.”

Credit: Babb family

“It was a new world for me. I used to see movies of the players getting letters and stuff and they were coming to my house," Babb said.

“I have one of those biggest totes you can buy, I saved it. And it’s full of mail," Kamryn's stepmom, Amanda Babb said.

An ACL injury cut his senior season short, but soon it was on to college, and one of the premier programs for receivers in the country: Ohio State.

But it wasn't long before life got in the way.

Babb tore another ACL in practice before his freshman season. And then he did it again in the spring of 2019.

“When he told us that it was like… again," Kamryn's dad, Tyrone Babb said.

It was after that third ACL tear that Kamryn Babb the football player began to take a long, hard look at Kamryn Babb the man.

“That was the question of, 'God. What do you want me to do?' That question came into my mind. (I was) just thinking if this football thing was something I wanted to keep doing," Babb said. “When you ask, 'Kam Babb who are you?' I was Kam Babb the football player. That’s all I knew. That’s all I identified as. And when it was taken away for the third time, I didn’t really know what to do or who to fall back on.”

Credit: Babb family
Credit: Babb family

“He called and said, ‘Mom I’m coming home. I can’t do this anymore,'" Templeton said. “When I picked him up from the airport that night and we sat on the couch and both cried. I said, ‘Can you look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you’re OK with never doing this again?’ And he said, ‘No.’”

So back to rehab Kamryn Babb went, armed with a newfound devotion to his faith and a determination to finally get on the field.

He did get on the field in 2020, playing a role on special teams for the Buckeyes and was eventually named a team captain and chosen to wear the coveted "Block O" No. 0 for Ohio State. But the once-hyped receiving recruit was still looking for that first college catch.

And yet another ACL injury in 2021 didn't deter him.

Kamryn Babb was getting back on that field. Two torn ACLs in each knee, six total surgeries, and all.

Credit: Babb family

On Nov. 12, 2022, his fifth and final season as a Buckeye, Babb was cleared to play in his final home game against Indiana.

“He told us he might get some 'PT' and we were like, ‘Now what?’ That means playing time, also physical therapy. But it was playing time," Amanda Babb said.

“I looked at (Buckeyes QB) C.J. (Stroud) and he talked to me and said, ‘Bro, we finna get you the ball,'" Babb said.

“He was out there one-on-one and I was like, 'Kamryn’s out there, you should throw him the fade!'” Tyrone Babb said.

“And then it happened. And I didn’t get to see it happen, because I was crying so hard," Templeton said.

"It" was an 8-yard touchdown catch for Babb in his last game ever. The only catch of his college career.

But for those who knew his story, it was much more than just a touchdown catch. And as Babb knelt in that end zone on his scarred and surgically-repaired knees, he once again turned to his faith.

Credit: AP
Ohio State wide receiver Kamryn Babb, center, celebrates his touchdown against Indiana with teammates quarterback C.J. Stroud, left, and running back Dallan Hayden during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State won 56-14. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

“The past five years of thinking about a moment like that where I can glorify Him and give thanks, and all the times in my room I was in that position on my knees and asking God why and praising him and being vulnerable with him and allowing myself to be who I am. The moment you saw on Saturday is a moment I’ve had in my room so many times," Babb said. "When it was just me and Him and that was my moment to tell Him thank you."

He's likely the only college or professional football player to ever return and score a touchdown after two ACL tears in each knee. Babb's story is one of pain and perseverance. 

The football dream may not have gone as he planned, but life gave him a moment and a story to inspire others.

“If it wasn’t for the suffering I had to go through personally, I wouldn’t be the man I am today," Babb said.

“No matter what you’re going through, you can overcome," Tyrone Babb said.

“It’s something in him. Life has not always been easy. And everybody sees Kam Babb the football player, and they don’t understand some of the things that have gone on in life," Templeton said. "I know what that dream meant to him. And it may not look like what he thought it was going to look like. But he’s touched a lot of people."

Babb completed his master's degree at Ohio State, has launched his own NIL clothing endeavor and has been sharing his story with churches, schools and young athletes across the country. Babb's NIL agency even said that one person he shared his story of finding faith with decided not to attempt suicide after hearing his testimony.

The future is still open for Babb, but armed with his story of faith and perseverance, he's hoping to inspire everyone he can.

“I wanted to inspire young kids, whoever it may be who have an injury right now or going through something, and they feel like they want to quit or give up, that if I can do it, especially if you’re a follower of Christ, you can do anything through him," Babb said.

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