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Jim Harbaugh’s inspiring friendship with paralyzed teen is a lesson for us all

Jun 1, 2012, 5:25 PM EDT

Jim Harbaugh AP

There aren’t a lot of soft edges to Jim Harbaugh, at least according to those who don’t know him. Those who do realize that there’s more to the 49ers head coach than playbooks, whistles and multiple doses of Advil, as seen in this story from CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco. Right after the 49ers finished practice on Thursday in Santa Clara, Harbaugh flew to Bakersfield to attend graduation ceremonies at Independence High School. That’s because his friend Tyler Schilhabel was graduating.

Schilhabel is a former quarterback for Independence who was paralyzed following an ATV accident in 2010. Harbaugh, who was the head coach at Stanford at the time, visited him at Stanford Hospital, where the boy had been airlifted following the accident. The two have kept in touch since then.

When Schilhabel spent some time in November at the 49ers’ practice facility in Santa Clara, there was brief talk of Harbaugh attending the graduation ceremony.

“Then, about two months go, I got a text, ‘Am I still invited to your graduation?’ And it went from there,” Schilhabel said.

“It just shows me how genuine he is,” Schilhabel said. “I’ve known it from Day 1. I knew he’d be true to his word. And others see that, too. You can look at him as another famous person and a great football coach, but I see all of his intangibles. He’s got a busy life of his own with a lot of responsibilities, but he cares that much to come to Bakersfield for a few hours. That meant a lot to me.”

Over the past two seasons Schilhabel has supported Harbaugh’s Stanford and 49ers teams by attending practices and even giving inspiring messages to the players. Harbaugh said that he’s “gotten the long end of the straw in this friendship,” marveling at Schilhabel’s determination and positive attitude as he works to rehabilitate himself. Harbaugh: “I’m just forever proud to be his friend.”

Schilhabel’s message is a simple one.

“Whether you’re a high school quarterback or a pro football player, you never know when your last game is going to be.”