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Derry football coach Vince Skillings shares story about his addiction, desperation to inspire others

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Saturday 24 July 2021 | 13:23 o’clock


He hadn’t planned it, but Vince Skillings literally saw the light in the darkest dark times.

One summer evening in 1997, he was almost done with everything.

“I’ve hit rock bottom,” Skillings said. “I was smoked and drunk for a week. I had destroyed my second marriage. I felt like the biggest loser of all time.

“I was planning to kill myself.”

About two decades before he would become the head football coach at Derry and lead his alma mater into the 2021 season, Skillings’ wild ride of a football career — and destructive brush with fame — came almost to a tragic conclusion.

“I hooked a snake to my car window,” he said. “I was going to do it. I had a blackout. When I came to, paramedics were working on me, and I was arguing with my brother. It was a wake-up call.”

The former Ohio state defenseman who played in the Canadian Football League for the Montreal Alouettes in 1981 after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the sixth round was treated and came home. He went to rehab.

But he hadn’t learned his lesson yet—not quite yet.

A year later, he was sitting at his computer in his apartment in Derry, again in a hazy state of connection with the world.

It was June 9, 2001, he recalls specifically. The date is a permanent timestamp.

“I’ve been tricked again,” he said. “I was filthy and hadn’t showered in days. I stunk. I was playing dominoes on the computer and kept falling off my chair. I hit the floor and passed out. When I opened my eyes, all I saw was the lights of my church across from my window. Usually they weren’t that late at night, but some people had stayed for choral rehearsal.”

The last domino had fallen – for the last time. It was then that he stumbled upon a moment of clarity.

“I was scared,” he said. “It was so dark. It was like floating through the universe. But then it became clear: God was calling me back to church.”

Skillings, then 42, went to church that night and prayed because, “God gave me an ultimatum. The glory of God had blessed me. I had to make a decision. If I stayed hooked and lived in sin, I knew what I was dealing with.” had to do.”

From then on, he vowed to stay clean, preach the word of God, and do his part to make the world a better place.

He had cast out the demons of drug addiction and earned another set of downs.

“I had contentment and joy over me,” he said. “God spoke to me and said this is what I want for you.”

Now Skillings, 62, is an ordained elder at the New Creation Family Worship Center in Greensburg. He also works as a security guard at Torrance State Hospital.

He has been preaching for about 20 years in schools and prisons, for youth groups and teams.

He may not have a degree in counseling, but he has experience of that life and shares it.

“I was meant to be a pastor since seventh grade,” he said. “I have to point people in the right direction. I teach my players to love and respect each other. Morality, respect and discipline. Young minds go through problems and they need guidance.”

Skillings talks candidly about his sordid past in the hopes it can help someone else trapped under the boot of decadence and excess.

“I chased the girls and partied. I did all that,” he said. “But I lost focus on what was happening around me.”

His impressionable players have heard his stories and some want to take his advice.

Derry senior quarterback Zack Revoir said the players listen when their coach talks.

“No matter what obstacles we face,” Revoir said, “none is impossible to overcome. That’s what the coach taught us.”

Skills morphed into coaching in 2001, starting as a high school coach and varsity assistant at Ligonier Valley.

He was an assistant to Edinboro and Cal (Pa.) around the time he entered rehab.

He moved back to Columbus, Ohio in 2004 and served as an assistant at Westerville South for four years.

In 2008, he moved to Florida for his job as a machine operator and coached at West Oaks Academy in Orlando.

A fracking job brought him back to Derry before he started working at Torrance.

He coached for eight seasons at United before returning to Derry, where he accepted his first head coaching appearance last summer.

Skillings wonders what could have been, but appreciates what is.

“To think I might have had a National Championship or Super Bowl rings,” Skillings said. “That hurts. That’s a big regret.”

Pete Carroll, who later coached the New England Patriots and won a national title at USC before joining the Seattle Seahawks, was a defensive backing coach at Ohio State when Skillings played there, and the two have kept in touch.

“He supported me,” Skillings said. “When he told me I was coaching with him, I was so blown away and didn’t realize the opportunity was ahead of me. Who knows? He might have taken me (to the NFL).”

Or maybe Skillings could have taken Carroll to church.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill via email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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