The stadium lights weren't the only things shining bright at Bracken County High School's football game on Sept. 27 in Brooksville, Ky. The smiles coming from one family were just as vivid after they received the surprise of a lifetime as the school's polar bear mascot removed his mask, unveiling an unexpected visitor.
Shockingly, it was Army Spc. Justin May, home from his nine-month deployment in Afghanistan to surprise his brother, Ryan May, a senior on the football team, and his dad, Ronnie May, an assistant coach, right after the coin toss to kick off the game.
"I was just totally blown away because I knew he was back in the states from Afghanistan, but I knew he had to go to Fort Hood for demobilization," the soldier's father, Ronnie, 45, told GoodMorningAmerica.com. "I had called him on the way to the football game to see how he was doing and asked when he thought he was able to come home. He said, 'Probably about a week and a half,' and the whole time he was right there at the school."
Justin May, 20, had been planning the elaborate surprise for about four or five months, even getting the principal and football team's head coach in on it.
"My mother actually is the one who had the idea for the football game," he said. "I wanted to do a surprise but I wasn't sure how I was going to do it. We got it set up with the coach and the principal to have the uniform ready."
He had even been in town since Sept. 23, four days before the game, but explained, "I was laying low and hiding out and making sure no one saw me. I was waiting until the big football game."
Being a small southern town, May's family was quite shocked he was able to keep it a secret as long as he did.
"It's pretty neat," Ronnie May said. "We're a small town so usually when something goes on, everyone knows."
And although the surprise ended up working out perfectly, the entire moment almost didn't go off without a hitch. Justin May had arranged for his name to be announced right before revealing himself, but his brother, Ryan, didn't realize he was actually there and had already begun walking off the field.
"I heard them announcing his name and stuff, but I figured they were just doing it to honor him for being back in America. I thought he was in Texas," Ryan said. "But when I saw him, I didn't know what to think. I just ran over to him and gave him a big hug."
It was a proud moment for the two boys' dad, who admitted it was hard focusing back on the game after such a big surprise.
"It was great," Ronnie May said. "It's Ryan's senior year, we won the game, and with Justin being home, that was the best game all year."
"I don't know how to explain it," added Ryan, who is also going into the military upon graduation. "He's a big part of my life. We always get along and he's always been there for me. I missed him real bad and am so glad he's home."