You would be hard-pressed to find a young football fan more devoted to the sport than nine-year-old Jason Smith Jr.
Jason, a fourth grader from Prague, Okla., has been an assistant coach for the Prague Red Devils of the Deep Fork Valley football league since he was in first grade, helping his father, head coach Jason Smith Sr.
While Jason’s twin brother, Jalen, plays on the field, Jason has been confined to the sidelines of the sport he loves. At age three he was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disorder that causes a weakening of the body’s muscles. A few months ago, Jason lost the ability to walk and is now wheelchair-bound.
“He’s never been able to run or jump or do things that the other kids do, so that didn’t allow him to play [football],” his mother, Miranda Smith, said.
All of that changed last Thursday night, however, thanks to the ingenuity of a referee, Nick Loman, who had seen Jason on the sidelines calling plays at so many little league games.
“He [the referee] had seen Jason different times at so many different ballgames, and this time he just came up to my husband with the idea to put Jason in the game,” Smith said.
The Red Devils were facing the Shawnee Wolves in a potentially season-ending playoff game for both teams, but with 10 seconds left in the game, and the Red Devils down by 12 points, the coaches on both sides of the field said yes.
“You’re in, bud,” Jason Smith said he told his son, grabbing Jalen’s football helmet so Jason Jr. could suit up.
With that, Jason found himself on the field, carrying out the play he usually calls from the sideline and carrying the football toward the end zone. He was pushed past the goal line by his good friend, Andrew, with his teammates and even the opposing players by his side.
When Jason realized what he had accomplished, his parents said he grinned from ear to ear — his eyes also wide with disbelief.
“In the video you can hear Jason Jr. say, “They actually counted it?’” said Miranda Smith. “He’s smart and he knows the game so they were all very excited that he counted it. We even got up the next day and checked online to see if they had really counted it and they did, so he was very excited.”
The Red Devils still lost the game, 14 to 20, and saw their season end. But Jason’s triumph eased the disappointment his fellow players would have otherwise felt.
“They didn’t even care about the loss,” Jason Smith said of the team he and Jason Jr. have coached for the last four years. “They were happy they got to do that with Jason. The boys would pretty much do anything for him.”
The Red Devils’ players would “do anything” for Jason because they know he would, and can, do anything for them. A few weeks earlier in the season Jason Smith had let his son take over as head coach for an entire game, calling all the plays, and the Red Devils won that game 28-0.
“He’s just really good with his words,” Jason Smith said. “He can make people listen at a young age.”