For years, Brian Burnham had a shadow during pregame warmups.
Austin Corbett was always at the Summit defensive line coach’s side as the Spartans prepared for the opening kickoff.
Burnham’s voice cracked with emotion as he talked about his memories of Austin and the days ahead without his buddy.
Austin, 24, died Wednesday due to COVID-19 complications, a week after covid complications also claimed his mother, Maude Dixon.
“He was the best kind of kid you could ask for,” Burnham said. “He was in my special needs class. He was one of the first kids I ever met when I started at Summit eight years ago.”
Austin, a Summit graduate who had Down syndrome, loved the school.
“He bled blue and orange,” Burnham said. “He loved everybody he came in contact with. Just a great soul.”
Austin enjoyed being part of the team.
“He understood that being part of something was bigger than just being at the game by yourself,” Burnham said. “In his own little world, he found a niche to contribute. A lot of people got inspiration from him.”
Burnham said special needs students are dealt a hand they have no control over, but they always find a way to have a smile on their face.
“Austin never did not have a smile on his face,” Burnham said. “He always was excited to see you, he always was excited to be at the game. The kids loved him, the student body loved him, he always said he had 15 or 20 girlfriends.”
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by an extra chromosome.
“I think he loved football and baseball the most,” Burnham said. “He was at every basketball game he could come to as well.”
Austin was also a big Vanderbilt baseball fan.
“It’s such a big blow to our sports community and Summit family as a whole because he was just so involved and everybody loved him so much,” Burnham said. “The hardest part is just the fact that he was just at Summit three weeks ago for warmups with me. He was healthy and vibrant and with us and now it’s just so abrupt.”
Burnham said he feels a sense of shock and disbelief.
Summit, the defending Class 5A champion, is off to an 8-0 in its first year in 6A.
“It’ll be tough moving forward knowing that he’s not gonna be there beside me and with us,” Burnham said. “All Austin would have wanted is for us to try to continue (the success we’ve had so far) and try to win another one.”
A celebration of life will be held for Austin and his mother at 2 p.m. Sunday at Summit’s football field.
Austin’s father, Bill, has also been battling COVID. Bill and Maude own the Old School Café in Spring Hill.
A GoFundMe page has raised more than $66,000 to help the Corbett family pay expensive medical bills.
“He’s such a pillar of what Summit is and he’s going to be severely missed,” Burnham said of Austin.