Football is family

DACATURVILLE, Tenn — On Friday night September 16, Jeffery Whitley took the field like he does every game day, except for this night, he was in uniform for the first time in his life.

Whitley, a special needs student at Decaturville Riverside High School joined the football team prior to the 2015 season. From there a relationship would grow with quarterback Drake Smith.

Whitley and Smith met in the third grade and lived close to one another since their childhood. Being the caring and thoughtful guy he was, Smith lobbied to his old coach that they should bring Whitley onto the football team to be the team’s manager and water boy last year. The coach would agree and Jeffery would become apart of the football team and join the brotherhood.

Later that season, Smith broke his leg, left to face the long road of recovery and tough times, Whitley was there for him.  Smith and Whitley would spend countless hours on the sidelines together and in the locker room.

“He was there for me in my toughest time,” said Smith.

From there, the two became brothers. With them living so close to one another, Smith says they spend the whole day together, aside from when they go to bed each night.

“I take him home everyday, we go eat, if we have family dinner, he’s there apart of it,” said Smith.

As their bond strengthened, Smith did one thing Whitley would have never imagined. He convinced his coach, Johnnie Frost, to let him suit up and take the field for the homecoming game. Whitley never had dreams of becoming a football player, he played soccer growing up, Smith said. But he found a love for the game, because Smith loved the game.

“I said man this would be great,” said Frost.

Originally they had plans for Whitley to dress up for senior night, but with a big turnout expected for the homecoming game against Loretto, Frost knew that was the perfect time.

So Whitley dressed up in his number three jersey, although he wanted number 10, which happens to be Smith’s number. He took the field and on the opening kick off, Smith handed him the ball and he ran towards the end zone to score his first ever Panther touchdown. He would be swarmed by his teammates and cheers roared from the stands, Frost saying he doesn’t think there was a dry eye in the stadium.

“It felt good and amazing, I helped the team win,” Whitley said.

Smith could do nothing but take in the moment and shed a few tears. A kid he has known since the third grade, will now have something special to look back on.

“It was probably the best moment of my life,” said Smith.

Whitley described Smith as upset, when he saw him crying, but little did he know, those were tears of joy.

On Whitley’s kick return, he showcased some serious speed bursting through the middle. When asked if he was faster than his brother Smith, Whitley looked at him and said, probably with a big smile. When he came to school Monday morning he received a warm welcome.

“They said good job on running a touchdown,” said Whitley.

Both seniors, Whitley will take on a new role this winter when he will join the basketball team as their manager, because his big brother is joining the team.

Drake has plans to go on and play college football, his brother Jeffery, wants to go wherever he goes, but if he could choose the school, he said it would be the Tennessee Volunteers.



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