Matt Ziesel's debut on the freshman football team at Benton (St. Joseph, Mo.) will not soon be forgotten.
The 5-foot-3, 110-pounder has Down syndrome, but charged 62 yards for a touchdown during a game last Monday night.
Ziesel is the son of Mike Ziesel, former basketball coach and current athletic director for Benton. He says that Down syndrome affects each child differently.
According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, one out of 800 children is born with Down syndrome.
“Every kid has a different form or level of disability,” he said. “Matt has been diagnosed not necessarily as mild, but with a milder form of Down syndrome. His biggest problem is his speech. He doesn’t talk very well.”
That’s never hampered his love of sports, and his affection for being around high school athletics. When he was younger, Mike would bring him on the sidelines, where he was embraced by the Benton players.
“He loves being around kids, and the high school kids have loved him for years,” Mike said. “The kids have really been great to Matt, and they’ve watched out for him.”
This was never more apparent than last Monday, when a small gesture of kindness turned into a magnificent flood of support that came from well outside the town of 800.
With the freshman football game out of reach and victory secured for Maryville, Benton freshman head coach Dan McCamy decided it was time for a special play not found in any other playbook.
He called it the “Matt Play.”
McCamy had a discussion with the coaching staff at Maryville, explaining his intention to give Matt what, for any other player, might just be a meaningless snap as the clock ran down.
Up to that point, Maryville had been shutting out Benton. However, the Spoofhounds’ staff graciously agreed to let Matt run wild on their defense.
With the consent of Maryville, McCamy called on Matt to take the handoff of his life. As he came around the outside and sprinted down the sideline, the Maryville defense ran toward him, making his experience as real as possible.
So real, in fact, that Matt bit his lip during the play.
As No. 45 made his memorable run, teammates on both the field and the sideline ran beside him. They weren’t there to block, but to provide another type of protection, the type that the Benton community has provided for years.
“You’ve got to understand our community — not just Benton High School — and the support and values system most of these people have,” Mike said.
As soon as Matt crossed the goal line, his teammates celebrated with him like they would any other player.
It’s ironic that the touchdown video has become a YouTube sensation, because it was never intended for the Internet.
“It really wasn’t intended to be that way,” Mike said. “Danny (McCamy) didn’t put it on there to get any publicity. He did it because my wife Patty didn’t get to make it to the game. It was kind of a birthday present to her from him. He only meant to show about four people.
Stephen Spiewak is the National Football Editor for MaxPreps. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.