VIDEO: Football player with cerebral palsy runs 80-yard touchdown
ATLEE, VA (WWBT) - Sepp Shirey has been a football player since fourth grade, and his dream from a young age has been to play for Atlee, running out of the tunnel on Friday nights.
"It's something I can remember from my earliest time being a part of," said Shirey. "It's something that in my life, right now, I enjoy more than anything."
Like many players, elementary school is where the chase began. But while his peers could focus on speed, strength and routes, Shirey had another hurdle - playing with cerebral palsy.
He says his parents were supportive of his goals, even if it took his mother a little while to be completely on board with football.
"She thought that tackle football and cerebral palsy might not go together so great, but (she) actually went around to my various doctors and pediatricians, and all of them cleared me to play," he said.
So off he went, playing the game just like any other kid. Of course, it had its separate challenges – like his need for crutches on the field – but he always felt part of the team.
It wasn't until middle school when Shirey started to wonder how he looked compared to other players.
"How do I look out there? Do I look weird to all these people who are watching me play?"
But now, those feelings have passed, and he's just one of the guys again, focused on football.
"I've put that behind me," he said. "I think I've just realized that this is just me, and there's not any changing that. And I can be who I want to be, despite having cerebral palsy."
His coach agrees.
"I said, I know there may be things that you may not be physically able to do, but I think your presence here, I think a lot of guys are going to appreciate that," said Matt Gray, Atlee's Head Coach.
Shirey might not be on the field as much as his teammates, but he brings a lot to the table – traits his fellow Raiders look to for inspiration.
"Every time I think I'm tired, every time I think I gotta take a play off, I'm exhausted, I look over at him, and he's doing it all on his arms. That's crazy," said teammate Hayden Moore. "He's easily the hardest worker on the team.
At the end of the day, Shirey is a varsity high school football player – he's accomplished his dream. And maybe his journey will push others to chase theirs.
"We all have limitations," said Gray. "Obviously his are visual, but those are things, that you know, you talk about being inspired … he will not allow anything to hold him back."
Shirey's advice? Just brush your limitations aside.
"Sometimes you'll make enough progress where you can really find the courage to keep pressing on," he said.
And on Friday, Shirey pressed on.
With the help of his teammates, the Atlee senior ran for an 80-yard touchdown.
Shirey's next goal is to attend the University of Alabama and study broadcast journalism. That school is also home to the top-ranked college football program in the country. Shirey says he hopes to be involved with that team in some capacity as well.
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