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Football is a just a game and on the various levels in which it is played, coaches, fans, parents and players are often too concerned with wins and losses. But, in the purest sense, the game of football can bring joy to the hearts of children – if only for a moment in time. Sometimes just a moment is all that is needed.
The Jackson State University football team did so much more than just practice, in preparation for its August 30th season opener, on Saturday. The Tigers were able to provide one of those moments and put a smile on a boy’s face. Head coach Harold Jackson and his Tigers named 11-year old Freddie Coleman, who suffers from Asperger syndrome and a brain-stem tumor, an honorary team captain for the season.
“I have a real soft spot in my heart for kids,” said Jackson. “This was something I really wanted to do once I heard about Freddie.”
Asperger syndrome (AS) is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. Other signs of AS can include physical clumsiness and atypical use of language.
“I really didn’t know what to expect but this has been an awesome experience,” said Iyanna Colly, Freddie’s mother. “I am really excited and glad to see him smile.”
In his role as a team captain, Freddie received his own locker at both the JSU practice facility and at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, an autographed football (signed by the coaching staff and players) and a number 29 jersey signed by Harold Jackson. Jackson wore number 29 during his NFL career.
“Because of the brain tumor, Freddie’s extremely sleepy,” said Colly. “In fact he was sleeping on the way here.”
After receiving his locker, Freddie didn’t have much time to sleep and it seems he didn’t want to. He spent the rest of the day with the Tigers. He ate in the dining hall where the team eats and after that it was on to practice.
As a team captain it was his responsibility to lead the Tigers onto the floor inside of the Walter Payton Center. The Tigers were forced inside because of rain, but that didn’t damper Freddie’s spirits. He led the team in warm up drills and even had All-American linebacker Javancy Jones and quarterback La Montiez Ivy each trying to persuade him to come to their sides of the ball. He ended up in a blue (defense) number six jersey.
During practice Freddie was able to show some of his moves as he returned a punt for a touchdown, faking out and eluding would be tacklers. He also practiced with the wide receivers and running backs (by the way Freddie has good hands – having only one ball hit the floor, which looked to be an overthrow by a QB) before getting in reps on the defensive side of the ball.
Every time Freddie caught a pass or made a juke move he was cheered on by his new Tiger teammates and coaches. By the end of practice Freddie talked a little bit more and the smiles came more frequently.
“It really puts things into perspective,” said Jackson. “You really hate to see things like this happen to someone who is so young and doesn’t even know the facts of life yet. But we just wanted to put a smile on his face and we did that today.”
Freddie is the first person to be named an honorary JSU team captain for the 2014 season and he received season tickets to all seven JSU home games. The Tigers open the season on August 30 when they host the Florida A&M Rattlers at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium at 6 p.m.
JSUTV will also air a segment of Freddie’s visit with the football team during next week’s episode of Behind the Scenes with JSU Athletics. Check local listings for channel and times or visit http://www.jsumsnews.com/jsutv/.