GREEN BAY — Corey Linsley did as he was told the first day.
It was the summer of 2014, and the rookie fifth-round draft pick from Ohio State was about to embark on the quintessential training-camp tradition: Riding a child’s bike to his first Green Bay Packers practice.
“I told him, ‘Pick a girl,’” Linsley’s then-girlfriend, now-wife Anna recalled with a smile Monday.
On Day 2, the girl was nowhere to be found. She was an out-of-towner, and Linsley was again without a ride. That’s when he spotted Travis Kohlbeck, looking more than a little dejected after not finding a rider on Day 1 and having watched a group of players bypass him again on that second day. Something inside Linsley told him to pick then 10-year-old Travis.
“It was completely random,” Linsley said Monday. “Totally by chance.”
It led not only to a feel-good story that went viral that summer, but to an enduring friendship — one that the Kohlbeck family is counting on for help as Travis’ father, John, fights for his life in a hospital room in Milwaukee.
The Linsleys have organized a fundraising event for John Kohlbeck, who has been in a coma since March 3 after undergoing surgery to stop necrotizing fasciitis, a serious bacterial infection also known as flesh-eating disease. As of Monday evening, John was still in a coma, although he did show encouraging signs over the weekend, including squeezing his wife Alicia’s hand.
From rookie year thanksgiving, to birthdays, little league and more: The Kohlbeck family has become part of our extended family in Green Bay! We hope you’ll join @Linsley71 and me to ROCK FOR JOHN w/ @johnnywadband @BadgerStateBeer on April 17th. Tickets: https://t.co/YR1gIZunlh pic.twitter.com/Jf8yfo7cuh— anna linsley (@aelinsley) April 1, 2019
“They’ve become, honestly, extended family,” Linsley said. “They’re great people. We just feel so lucky that fate brought us together. And now we’re in a position where we can help them.”
Anna, who majored in marketing at Ohio State and worked in event planning in Columbus before moving to Green Bay, has organized an April 17 concert featuring local 1980s cover band Johnny Wad at Badger State Brewing, a brew pub near Lambeau Field.
The event will also include a silent auction of memorabilia, a raffle, a T-shirt sale and — Corey Linsley hopes — appearances by a few of his Packers teammates, who are set to return to town next week for the start of the offseason program.
Anna Linsley came up with the idea for the concert while trying to put her middle-of-the-night waking hours to good use after giving birth to son Seamus, the Linsley’s first child, on March 14. Since then, whenever the little guy has been up for feedings, Anna’s mind has been racing with ideas.
“When it first happened, I felt helpless — I was 9½ months pregnant and could have gone into labor at any moment,” Anna said. “Now, I feel like Super Mom. So I just got to work, fired off a couple emails. It’s not rocket science.”
The Linsleys are hoping the event not only sells out, but takes off the way Linsley’s first random act of kindness did during his rookie year. That summer, the Kohlbecks faced another family medical emergency when Alicia suffered a brain hemorrhage and spent eight days in the hospital, including four in intensive care after being airlifted to Appleton. That’s where Alicia was the day Linsley rode Travis’ bike for the first time.
Hoping to cheer Travis up that summer, Linsley bought him a new bike. The story drew extensive media attention after John Kohlbeck posted to Facebook a simple note of appreciation for how a little-known rookie had gone out of his way to do something nice for his son.
Now, five years later, Linsley is one of the top centers in the NFL, having been rewarded with a three-year, $25 million contract extension late in the 2017 season. And the Linsleys are happy to once again help a family with whom they’ve spent holidays and exchange Christmas ornaments with each year.
“After five years here, we have a million connections now. But we didn’t know anyone when Corey was a rookie,” Anna Linsley said. “Now we’re in a position where we can make an impact and help them. Which probably wouldn’t have been possible five years ago.”
Added Corey Linsley: “This is awful. This is the second traumatic event that this family has had to go through in six years. So we obviously wanted to do something for John. We just hope anybody and everybody can come out.”