Tempe prep coach Josh Brittain talks about how cerebral palsy has affected him as a coach and a person.

Tempe Prep football coach Josh Brittain is living the life he's always wanted. He played football at Tempe Prep, a starting guard on the 2008 team that reached the state semifinals. He graduated from college. He's married and expecting his first child. He has his dream job, succeeding his father, Tommy, as Tempe Prep's coach.

At 26, he can't ski or roller-blade, and he needs help if he wants to climb the stairs to get to the top of the gym. And there's his gait, awkward and pronounced, the bend of the right knee, the right foot dragging across the gravel.

But to focus on his walk is to miss the point - and miss the man. Cerebral palsy doesn't define him. It never has. He's certain it never will.

Tempe Prep head coach Josh Brittain works with his team Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016 in Tempe. (Photo: David Kadlubowski/azcentral sports)

"I forget that I have it," Brittain said. "I don't think about it for one second. It's just who I am. I have 50 friends who haven't mentioned it in 10 years."

Brittain will admit he's blessed. He has a mild case of cerebral palsy, a "minor cross," as he puts it. Others with the disease, which can affect muscle coordination and speech, aren't so fortunate.

"I know it can be a lot worse," he said. "There are people with CP who can't live a normal life."

Still …

MORE COACHES: Tempe Marcos de Niza coach Paul Moro one win from tying all-time wins record

There was the doctor who told Tommy Brittain that his 2-year-old son wouldn't walk without a cane.

"You don't know my son," Tommy responded.

Josh's parents were his biggest advocates. They didn't put limitations on their son and they instilled in him the same work ethic they did their other children. Essentially, they were telling Josh: You're not different.

"They were always so supportive of me," Josh said. "Whenever I asked to do something they didn't say, 'Well, let's see what the doctor says.' They let me do it. I come from a family of hard workers. I'm the same way."

Still ...

There were the surgeries when Josh was 4  and 7 years old, the first a posterior rhizotomy, which involved cutting the nerves in the lower part of his spinal cord to ease the effects of the spasticity in his lower limbs. Spasticity can make muscles stiff and movement difficult or sometimes impossible. The second operation was performed to lengthen Josh's hamstrings and break and re-set his left foot, which was turned in.

There was the day a man known for healing people visited All Saints Catholic Church in Mesa, where the Brittains attended but Josh, 7 years old at the time, still walked as he previously had when he got home.

"I remember knowing I didn't get healed, and I remember being sad," he said.

There was the Pop Warner coach who repeatedly told Tommy that his son should find something else to do besides football. Even Tommy wondered if the violent game was beyond his son's reach and spirit. But Josh wouldn't give in. One week, he made a tackle on a quarterback draw and when he got to the sideline, his father was standing there, a smile on his face.

"I knew he had seen it," Josh said. "I have never forgotten that."

Tempe Prep head coach Josh Brittain works with his team Tuesday, September 20, 2016 in Tempe. (Photo: David Kadlubowski/azcentral sports)

"I never expected him to play," said Tommy, now the coach at Phoenix St. Mary's. "But he's always optimistic. He never thinks about what he can't do."

Josh credits his faith and his family for that resolve. But it's somewhere inside his soul, too. He simply refused to let cerebral palsy keep him from being who he wanted to be and what he wanted to do. So, when Tempe Prep's junior-high track team needed an athlete to fill out its 4x100-meter relay team, there was Josh, slower than anyone at the school but always available.

"We could have had Usain Bolt out there," Josh said. "If I got the baton, we weren't winning."

RELATED: Arizona's best high school football coaches

Not once, Josh said, did teammates or opposing players mock or taunt him.

"I remember kids from Canyon State (Academy) always being very kind and complimentary after the game and giving me a hug," he said. "For the most part opponents were like that, helping me up after a chop block, patting me on the back, giving me a high five. People treated me very well when I was competing. I appreciated it."

Tempe Prep head coach Josh Brittain works with his team Tuesday, September 20, 2016 in Tempe. (Photo: David Kadlubowski/azcentral sports)

It's not entirely true that Josh never thinks about his disability. He's a history teacher at Chandler Preparatory Academy, and when he meets parents for the first time, he makes it a point to "walk strong."

"Not because I'm embarrassed, but because I don't know what they think," he said. " 'This guy is teaching my kid?' So I walk strong. If I don't think about how I walk, my gait is very pronounced. But if I focus, it still looks a little different but I can think, 'Pick up your right foot. Straighten your leg. Stand tall.' "

None of it matters. With Josh, it never has. His gait is the least distinctive thing about him.

"Once people get past how he looks and get to know him and are drawn into his spirit and strength of character, his good will and enthusiasm … in that regard Josh is a very gifted and special person," Tommy said.

Tempe Prep senior tight end/linebacker Herman Flores was in the eighth grade when he first met Josh. Like everyone else, he saw the awkward gait first.

"I didn't really know what to think about him," Flores said. "But then as I began to find out he was a football player and what he had to overcome to play, it amazed me."

Sometimes, cerebral palsy can even be a motivational tool.

Tempe Prep head coach Josh Brittain works with his team Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016 in Tempe. (Photo: David Kadlubowski/azcentral sports)

"He lets us know if he had the chance to have one of our bodies, he would just be a rabid dog out there," Flores said. "It's hard to have an excuse on the field for not playing hard. You have an example right in front of your eyes of what you should do."

Brittain sometimes wonders what it would have been like to have had a healthy body when he played at Tempe Prep. Could he have been a quarterback like his brother, Rocky? Or a tailback? Could Tempe Prep have won the state championship in 2008 if he had full use of his lower limbs?

MORE BORDOW: Reservations about an Open Division state title game

But those are fleeting - and, he'll admit, prideful - thoughts. The blessings in his life leave no space for regret.

"I don't see how it's affected my life in a negative way," he said. "I know it's made me who I am. I'm very thankful that I have it because the things that are the most important in my life, my gift of soul and the very few virtues I have are in large part because of this.

"Life isn't about what you can't do," he continued. "It's about getting the most out of what you have."

Reach Bordow at [email protected] and 602-448-8716. Follow him at Twitter.com/sBordow.

24 LINKEDINMORE