Little Noah Roberts, an 8-year-old from Wilmington, N.C., might be fighting a major medical battle, but that didn’t stop him from bulldozing down East Carolina’s football field Saturday, scoring a touchdown for the Pirates in the fourth quarter of their final spring-practice season game.
“Oh, my gosh. He was so excited,” Noah’s mother, Lisa Roberts, 44, told ABCNews.com. “When the coach first told him what they wanted to do, he got the biggest smile on his face.”
East Carolina University’s football staff had heard about Noah’s struggle with neurofibromatosis, which causes potentially cancerous tumors to grow in the nervous system, and wanted to do something special for the sports-loving boy whose older sister, Whitney, 18, attends the university.
“About a year and half ago, even before my daughter was a student there, the school approached us because they had heard about Noah’s story and his battle with neurofibromatosis,” Roberts said. “They contacted us and said, ‘Would you like to bring him out for a practice to meet the players?’ He loves sports and was very excited about doing that. We were so touched by their generosity and support for Noah.”
And as if previously meeting the players wasn’t enough excitement for Noah, the family later heard back from the coaching staff again, this time with an even bigger offer: to join the team on the field to score his very own touchdown.
Knowing how excited Noah would be for the opportunity, his parents decided to keep the offer for him to suit up a surprise.
“We didn’t tell him,” Roberts said.
But the timing was perfect.
In his short life, Noah has already undergone surgeries to remove tumors from his brain and spinal cord. Recently, however, he was particularly apprehensive about upcoming tests he needed in Washington, D.C., to check the status of new tumors his doctors found.
“He’s always been a good, go-with-the-flow kid and never complains about anything,” Roberts said. “He has been through so much in his little life, but he always has a really good attitude. For some reason, though, the last week before we went, he broke down several times and cried, saying, ‘Why do I have back to the hospital?’
“We kept trying to reassure him. So when this came about, we said, ‘How would you like to go to ECU on the way?’ It just brightened him up.”
When the family arrived to the stadium, the coaches sat him down to break the news a few hours before the game.
“He was so excited, but after about 10 seconds you can see that whole expression change to a little bit of fear. But he’s such a good kid, he didn’t want to bring that up,” Roberts said. ”The coaches made him feel great, though. They said, ‘Now, we’re going to have your back, and this is how it’s going to go down.’”
The video of Noah’s special touchdown has become an Internet favorite, surpassing 71,000 views on YouTube since ECU posted it April 20.
“This gives him something so positive to focus on,” Roberts said. “He’s still focusing on it. Everyone’s calling. He’s not typically a kid that enjoys the limelight, so this is really big for him.”
Noah got to keep his jersey, helmet and the game ball signed by head coach Ruffin McNeill, which is certainly making his D.C. hospital stay much more enjoyable.
“It’s just brightened his spirit so much,” Roberts said. “He keeps putting on the ECU helmet and standing in front of the mirror. We’re just excited because he’s so happy.”