POTSDAM - He might not run for 100 yards or throw three touchdown passes, but when the Sandstoners football team takes the field tonight versus Tupper Lake one of the most respected members of their team will be standing on the sidelines for the very first time.
Jeffrey J. Moody, a young man from Brasher Falls with Down syndrome, will be making his debut as the teams water boy, wearing a jersey signed by the team and its coaching staff that was presented to him by the team prior to their Sept. 27 game versus the schools arch rival, Canton Golden Bears.
Since that time, the number 40 jersey has seldom left his sight and is often on his back. When asked how many times she has had to wash the jersey since it was first presented to her son two weeks ago, Jackie Moody said she hasnt had the chance to wash it yet.
I cant wash it, because he never takes it off, she said. Hes afraid the signatures will wash off.
Mr. Moodys special relationship with the team began this past summer after he befriended Jordan Buffham, a senior defensive end and left tackle and his younger brother Brandon Buffham, who plays on the schools modified team. The Buffham family spends its summers camping in Brasher Falls, where Mr. Moody lives.
Brandon would go down and play with him, said the boys father, Michael Buffham, who would later learn that despite being a huge football fan for as long as he can remember Mr. Moody had never actually been to a football game.
He had never been to a game in person and now hes hooked, Mr. Buffham said. He tries to imitate everything they do from the calisthenics to the plays.
Ms. Moody said since her son attended his first game earlier this year Potsdam football is all he talks about.
Since this whole thing started with Dawn (Jordan and Brandons aunt Dawn Buffham), Potsdam football has been his whole world, she said.
Helping to prove her point, in between conversations and hugs with guys from the team, Mr. Moody, who is also a fan of the Denver Broncos, said, I love Potsdam.
When asked what would happen if Potsdam were to play the undefeated Broncos, Mr. Moody replied, Oh geez, indicating that in his eyes the game would be too close to call. When asked though, who would win if Potsdam played the winless New York Giants, he laughed and said, Potsdam.
While its not hard to imagine anyone falling in love with the game of football, the most remarkable part of the story, according to Mr. Buffham, is the way the team responded to having a new super fan in their corner.
The best part of this story is the way the team took to Jeffrey, Mr. Buffham said.
Hes a cool guy to be out on the field with, Jordan said, adding that during the games there is no doubt who their number one fan is.
Everyone can hear him, he said. Its awesome to have someone showing so much support for the team.
Maurice Rease, a senior corner on the team, has a special bond with Mr. Moody, noting that he had a sister with special needs.
Ive taken care of kids like him before, Maurice said. I had a sister with special needs who passed away when she was 18.
Maurice said that forming a relationship with Jeffrey has helped to fill a void in his life left by the death of his sister.
He kind of fills an empty spot, Maurice said. Hes someone for me to look after and in a small way take care of.
Oden Robertson, a senior running back on the team, said he has also been inspired by Mr. Moodys presence.
Hes an inspiration for the whole team, Oden said. He brightens everyones day, and its great to know were the first football team hes come to watch.
Devon Delaney, a senior cornerback, said that he and his teammates are looking forward to tonights game almost as much as Mr. Moody.
Having him out there on the field with us is going to be great, he said. To have him out there with us will be a great experience for both him and the team.
Head Coach James Kirka agrees.
I think this has been good for the team and Jeffrey. Jeffrey is passionate about football and the team really appreciates it, he said, explaining that it was the team who approached him with the idea of presenting Mr. Moody with a jersey.
I thought it was a great idea, he said. Its such a good group of kids. I wasnt shocked to see something like this coming from this group. You just dont see kids like this anymore.
Thats a point that wasnt lost on Ms. Buffham.
The cool thing about this is how all the guys take the time to talk to him and give him knuckles (what Mr. Moody calls a fist bump) before every game, she said. They say kids can be cruel, but with this football team, its been anything but.
Mr. Kirka also said that through bonding with Mr. Moody, his players are leaning a valuable lesson that theyll carry with them for the rest of their lives. Be thankful for what you have and be empathetic to others.
Its nice to see stories like this happening before our eyes, Mr. Kirka said. Every once in a while youll hear about a story like this, but its not often that you get to see it.
Athletic Director Mark Wilson said what hes seen this year from the football team is an example of north country hospitality.
This is a north country community and this is what we expect from our kids, he said, adding that this is an example of why interscholastic sports are so important.
These kids were brought together by football, he said. There are people out there who wonder why football is still here and this is why. It brings the community together. These kids learn about a lot more than winning, losing and teamwork. They learn respect and it helps them get a sense of community. That is what this jersey represents.