The dawn has barely broken and Blaze Mayes is awake, eager to get the day started. He’s so excited, he’s barely able to calm himself.
No, it’s not Christmas, though to Blaze it may as well be. Every day that he’s a member of the Aledo Bearcats football program is a gift — and not just to him, but to those sharing his joy.
Blaze has Down syndrome. Some common physical traits of Down syndrome, a genetic disorder, are low muscle tone, small stature, an upward slant to the eyes, and a single deep crease across the center of the palm.
None of which matters to Blaze, a 15-year-old sophomore. He embraces life and all the excitement it brings, which includes doing what he loves most in this world, playing football for his beloved Bearcats.
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“Blaze doesn’t see limitations. He’s one of the guys,” said Bearcats head coach Steve Wood.
“I like being a part of the team. I like lifting weights and working out with the guys,” Blaze said, his eyes lighting up and a smile scampering across his face. “I’m happy when I score a touchdown. It’s exciting.”
Practice isn’t over for the junior varsity B team until Blaze scores a touchdown at the end. It’s a daily routine, as is his “booty dance” to celebrate, in which Blaze stands in one place and gyrates from head to toe.
“He just loves being here every day. He gets up with a smile on his face, ready to go,” said Les Mayes, Blaze’s father. “One day during the summer he got here so early it was still dark. He went up to the coach and said, ‘Coach, it’s dark outside.’ The next day he got to turn the lights on (on the field). He was so excited.”
Blaze never misses a practice, is in the weight room as often as possible, and though his portion of the workout is non-contact, he runs drills with all of his teammates.
“Those great big guys, they hug him. They all love him,” Les said.
“He might live up here if we’d let him,” Wood said with a smile. “He can’t get enough football.”
Blaze often gives a speech to the team at the end of practice. Wood said it’s an uplifting moment, one of several Blaze provides each day.
“I get caught up in my own little world, get a little too serious, and then Blaze walks up and wants a hug,” Wood said. “It just lifts you up.”
Blaze scored a touchdown in a real game last season. Sure, players and coaches on both teams knew not to tackle him, but when Blaze reached the end zone, the stadium erupted as if the Bearcats had won another in a long line of state championships.
“It was pandemonium,” Wood said. “They (players and coaches) mobbed him.
“We slid him in at wide receiver in a game this year and he caught a pass. That was an exciting moment also.”
Blaze typically plays wherever he feels like playing on a given day, but his favorite position is running back. It allows him more opportunity to celebrate, he said.
“Every day in practice he spikes and dances,” Wood said. “He’s having a blast, and really, that’s what it’s all about.”
Blaze began playing football in seventh grade. He learned about the sport playing “Madden NFL” on Xbox.
When Blaze isn’t playing football, he’s usually involved in the Future Farmers of America program. He shows goats, lambs, and steers in competition, including this year’s State Fair of Texas. An avid TCU fan, he named his steer Frogs and the lamb Rule.
He also has a horse named Tater.
“My dad taught me to ride,” Blaze said, adding with a laugh, “I want to have a horse farm when I grow up. Coach Wood’s going to work for me.”
Blaze loves animals almost as much as he loves football. He often goes to work with his dad, who is a veterinarian, and helps him with the animals at his office.
“I watch the way he and his dad interact, and they have a special relationship,” Wood said. “His parents are so good with him. They get him up here every day, they know how important this is to him.”
Blaze first got involved with the football team when his middle school coach, Scott Cartwright, gave him an opportunity. It started with a simple game of catch.
“We’d throw him the ball and he’d practice with us,” Cartwright said. “He didn’t like it when we’d just run in practice, though. He wants to play.”
And Blaze wants to play on the varsity some day. Wood said that day will come if he continues in the program.
“If he sticks with it, he’ll be there as a senior,” Wood said. “He does everything the others do. He’s here when he’s supposed to be, he’s never late. He’s here for summer conditioning. So, if he stays with it, yes, he’ll be on the varsity.”
And when he does, Blaze has his sights set on doing what the Bearcats do so well, winning a state championship. Of course, he’d also like a couple more this season and next before he gets to the varsity.
“We can do it again this year. My boys can do it,” he said with excitement. “And I want a state championship.”
Wood said that while Blaze will never be the fastest or strongest player on the team, his heart is hard to match.
“I don’t see how it could but be an inspiration, watching him,” Wood said. “Any time you start thinking about how hard life is and feel sorry for yourself, then you see a young man like him, smiling all the time, that puts a lot in perspective.
“We’re the lucky ones, having him around, when you get down to it.”