UPDATE: Friday (May 9) is the last day to vote for Tony!
Tampa, Florida -- A former Riverview High School student juggling honor classes with playing football and running track also found the time to work a part time job each day.
Tony Dowels wanted desperately to do anything to help his mom and dad, but that demanding schedule almost cost him his future.
Under Friday night lights, Riverview High School junior Tony Dowels was making quite the name for himself on and off the football team.
"I was taking all AP classes and I was in the National Honor Society."
He says he ran track only to get faster at the cornerback position he was playing.
Dowels wasn't your average high school student. He'd start his day around 5:30 or 6 in the morning. Go to school from 7 a.m. - 3 p.m. and then practice. To help his mom and dad, he worked a fast food job in Brandon from 6 p.m. until 11 p.m. and then did his homework up into the wee hours of the morning until he'd start it all over again.
That was up until one fateful day this very month back in 2007. He was sleepy and was driving home from a track meet when his life changed forever.
"A semi truck was turning and my car went underneath the trailer of the semi truck and it dragged me about 500 yards," he recalls.
The accident happened just five minutes away from his home.
Tony broke his neck and had to be cut out of his car. After six hours of surgery and three months at Tampa General Hospital recovering, he had to learn how to do everything for himself again. He's a quadriplegic. He has no feeling in most of his fingers and can't feel anything from his chest down. Tony's dreams weren't sidelined though after the accident -- he graduated high school top of his class.
He went on to graduate from the University of Florida after studying Sports Management with only one goal in mind: he wanted to attend law school. Now, he's been accepted at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens and has received scholarships and grants to pay for his education at the private school.
He's all set to go, but desperately needs transportation. He's trying to win a special custom wheelchair accessible vehicle through a local non-profit organization that's holding a contest to see who can get the most votes.
"Winning the van will help me be more independent where I can go and do things on my own on my own time," Dowels says.
Tony says while he enjoyed his time earning his degree from the University of Florida in Gainesville, "the first two years there were horrible."
He says that's because for the first time in his life he was forced to do everything on his own. It was a struggle just to get up and dress himself each day and then get to his classes. He was used to his loving family helping him, but in college for the first time he was completely on his own. He made it through and things got a lot better. Now he's ready for law school.
Click here to vote for Tony.
You can only vote once a day up until May 9. At that time a panel of judges will choose four winners who will all receive a brand new custom wheelchair accessible vehicle.