A power play by an unlikely football player was rewarded with cheers from spectators on both sides of the field.
Five year old Julian Ruelas is the Denair Lions Youth Football ball boy. He watched his brother Jessie Ruelas for the past three years. But last Saturday, he got the chance to suit up and score the game winning touchdown.
“All I wanted to do was get him the ball so he could make the touchdown,” Jessie said.
Julian was born with Down Syndrome. But that hasn’t kept him from being the team’s biggest fan and inspiration.
“Yeah, he is great! We all protect him,” fullback Logan Durkee said.
Like most elementary kids, the Denair Lions deal with bullies at school.
“We have a lot at school,” Durkee said.
Julian’s positivity has taught his teammates to treat those with differences with respect. That sense of respect seemed to resonate when Julian made his touchdown against the Merced Blue Devils.
“You know what, it really got me when the whole stadium [and] the other team was chanting his name,” Coach Gabe Durkee said.
Respect is a big part of what Durkee coaches. It was his idea to arrange Julian’s play with the Blue Devils. Video of the touchdown shows players on both teams cheering on Julian.
The Denair Lions may have given Julian the play of his life, but Julian gave his teammates something even more powerful.
“We have each other’s backs,” Jessie said. “When I see someone doing something bad. I just tell them to knock it off.”
Julian will attend Denair Elementary School next year. His mom says he’s in good hands with the football team behind his back.