Soul Behind 11

 

As a mom of a son who often wears a number 11 jersey I tend to notice the other countless little boys who support our fearless quarterback by sporting his number. And as the last couple years have gone by I have often wondered if these little boys know what they are truly supporting when they wear the red, black & 11.

A young leader myself- taking over a not for profit organization at the age of 20 just 8 years ago- I am always intrigued by the drive behind the face. The last couple years I have been simply swept away as I've seen first-hand the story # 11 continues to write. The arm is firm, the mind is wise, the heart is a leader but the soul has made a difference. 

Four years ago 11 said “yes” to the call to escort children with disabilities on-stage to help celebrate what the children CAN do instead of what they can’t. The challenge was to make each child feel special on stage at our annual Big Hearts event.  The challenge was very much accepted:  11 bowed to the young ladies in wheelchairs, kneeling to get on their level; he kissed the cheeks of sweet girls with Downs syndrome who long to be treated as ladies; he passed footballs to young boys who may miss- yet made them appear as champions. And when the event was over, 11 was the last to leave with a bag of trash in hand.

Year after year 11 humbly accepted the challenge. And while he put on a show-stopping act on stage that made the kids feel worthy & special- the scene backstage was far greater. The genuine hugs, fist pumps, whispers of encouragement, the late nights and the absent complaints.... all to provide a special night for the children who deserve it most.

Whether on stage, after practice or at the kids favorite place- ESP- #11 has met them with grace. In a recent interaction on the practice field- a young girl, Emily, wheeled up to 11 and gleaned her giant smile. He looked at her for one moment and proudly stated, “Emily, you changed your hair color! I love it!” A freezing statement. The accuracy of the assessment of Emily is one that takes men 20 years of marriage to master. Yet, it was an incidence of many showing that 11 didn’t care about the number on his jersey or the photograph that was being taken of him. Number 11 cared for Emily. He cared for each of the 55 children who stood at the sidelines of practice cheering him on. And as the minutes passed on and the children surrounded,  # 11 kneeled to each child, looking them in the eyes and treating them as if they mattered. Because they mattered to him.

And as the last 4 years have passed the most amazing part of the story is that it’s no longer just #11. It’s#88, # 31, #82 and the list could go on.  As circles of players surround one boy Kaleb after practice singing beats to his favorite song, “she’ll be comin around the mountain” they smiled watching Kaleb’s pure joy in their involvement and focus on him. You see, the team has watched the example of their leader, #11. And in doing so have learned the power in giving.

And as the mom who is ever answering her 5 year-olds football questions, I was struck by the definition of quarterback. So often the focus is on the field, one who- “lines up immediately behind the center & directs the offense of the team.”

As the nation knows, #11 has done his job on Saturdays well.

But what sets #11 apart from the other men across the nation is the whole definition, “a person who leads or directs a group” # 11 is more than an arm, more than a quick mind, more than a handsome face or a leader on the field. # 11 has written a story, here in Athens, far greater than points on a scoreboard. He is a man who gives time & attention to those who are often stared at & forgotten. A man who has helped his team to change their perspective & use their position to engage. He is a soul that chose to use what he had to give to something greater than himself. 

And so, little boys, may your #11 jersey not retire after this season. Instead #11 should be a reminder that one soul chose to use his number to make a difference. May it be a challenge to the numbers that follow and to us fans who all have something, anything, to give back what we have been given. May the nation know and emulate you- Aaron Murray-  as your soul of servitude speaks much louder than your number.    quar·ter·back noun 1.a back in football who usually lines up immediately behind the center and directs the offence of the team. 2. the position played by the back. 3. a person who leads

*Laura Whitaker is the Executive Director of Extra Special People- a place where children & young adults with developmental disabilities don't just exist, they thrive. For more information visit www.extraspecialpeople.com or to make a contribution in Aaron's honor visit HERE.