Not on the field, still in the game |

Not on the field, still in the game

Robert Orvalla can't wear a helmet but continues to tackle challenges

Every boy who loves football does it sometime while growing up. They dance around in their back yards with a football, yelling out “… and he dodges one defender, ducks under another …” and then he throws the game-winning touchdown to an imaginary receiver.

Robert Orvalla’s family can sometimes hear him through the house when he is out back dreaming and yelling his football fantasies. Orvalla pretends he’s John Elway, and he announces his heroic feats to everyone within shouting distance.

The difference between Orvalla and most of the other boys who once imagined a football stadium surrounding their yards is that he may never get to suit up for a game.

When the 11-year-old was born, he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus. That means his brain produces more cerebrospinal fluid than it can naturally absorb. To drain the excess fluid, a tube called a shunt is inserted in the brain. The shunt is a flexible tube that diverts the flow of CSF into another region of the body where it can be absorbed.

“Robert has had a shunt since he was 6 months old,” his mom, Darcy, said.

Because of the tube in his head, doctors told Robert he shouldn’t play contact sports such as football.

Despite the restrictions he came within 10 feet of playing at Invesco Field in front of thousands on Nov. 7.

“They said he was in sixth place and 10 feet from fifth,” his mom said.

He was 10 feet away from a chance to play for the state title in the NFL Punt, Pass & Kick football competition.

Orvalla won the Craig and sectional competitions this fall in the 11- and 12-year-old division. Each contestant punts, kicks and throws a football and the total distance from all three events is what determines the winner. The top five contestants in each age group from across the state earn an invitation to the home of the Broncos.

“Last year, I was second in my age group in Craig,” he said. “Next year, I want to go to Invesco.”

Orvalla passed the ball 82 feet, kicked it 66 feet and punted it 85 feet when he won the sectional in Grand Junction.

“It’s the only football he gets to do,” his mom said.

Because the competition is Robert’s only way to “play” football, his backyard dreams are all he has. Except for Punt, Pass & Kick.

“I like throwing the most,” he said. “If I practice more, maybe I can win next year.”

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming.

David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or

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