Lewis

Greenup County's Brecken Thomas (21) embraces honorary captain Aaron Lewis (11) before walking to midfield for the pregame coin toss for the Musketeers' game against Fleming County on Friday. Dalton Halstead (4) is also shown.

LLOYD Tracy Kelly didn’t even have to talk Scott Grizzle into it.

Greenup County, like most teams, sends four captains, hand-in-hand, to midfield for the pregame coin toss before football games. On Friday, before a contest with Fleming County, one of the Musketeers’ four representatives wore a No. 11 yellow jersey, but no pads or helmet.

Meet Aaron Lewis, a Greenup County junior whose shoulders are a little too frail for high school football, but whose heart for football and for the Musketeers is as big as anyone on Greenup County’s roster.

Just ask Kelly, who teaches Lewis and students like him in a Greenup County High School resource classroom.

“He’s loved football since before he could walk, and being involved with the football program has been very important to him,” she said Wednesday. “He has totally bought into it. He has some limitations ... he’s so small, which prevents him from being out there with the big guys, but he has such a heart and such a love for other kids, and the kids love him in return, and it’s just absolutely amazing to see.”

Kelly is prevented by privacy laws from disclosing what exactly Lewis’ condition is, but suffice to say, she knew she needed to find a nontraditional way to get him on the field.

So she approached Greenup County’s coach before the Musketeers held their annual JFL Night last Friday. Lewis stays involved with Greenup County’s JFL program in a nonplaying role.

“I want them as actively involved in anything as we can,” Kelly said of her students, “so I just went to Mr. Grizzle and said, I have a kid in my room who absolutely loves the game of football and adores these boys that you have on the field, and I said, it would mean the world to him if he could be involved in some way.

“I said, ‘Can we do a coin toss?’ and he was like, ’Tracy, just tell me what you want.’ ... And I was like, ‘Can he wear a jersey?’ and Scott was like, ‘Well yeah, we can get him a jersey!’”

Lewis’s reputation had preceded him to Grizzle, who is familiar with Kelly’s class because six Musketeers — Brecken Thomas, Eli Sammons, Spencer Tackett, Tanner Euton, Patrick Kelly and Eric Lawson — serve as peer tutors in it.

“It was a no-brainer,” Grizzle said of Lewis’s involvement. “I knew our players would be all for it.”

Greenup County has elected six team captains. On Friday nights, three of those six go out for the coin toss, joined by a fourth player who earns that honor by fulfilling the Musketeers’ core values, Grizzle said: focus, juice, blue-collar tough, F.A.M.I.L.Y. (forget about me; I love you) and finish.

Lewis fit that to a T, Grizzle said.

“There’s no doubt that he was definitely the right guy for that,” the coach said.

As Greenup County public-address announcer Steve Tackett introduced Sammons as a game captain, Lewis tapped him on the arm and slapped his hand. And Lewis half-embraced Thomas on their way to midfield.

Lewis later called that his favorite part of the experience, spending it with Thomas and Sammons.

They’ve also grown attached to Lewis through their work as peer tutors.

“It was just a great experience being out there with him and helping him,” Thomas said. “I love Aaron; I love all these kids. They’re not to be treated differently. I see Aaron as one of my genuine friends, and I’d do anything for him, and that goes for everybody in the class.”

Sammons said being around Lewis and his classmates has changed “my outlook of life itself” and gave Friday’s game greater weight.

“It made the game mean a little something more to me personally,” Sammons said, “knowing I had to play for something more than myself.”

The coin toss exhibited Lewis’s improvement in social situations, Kelly said, as he was comfortable shaking hands with the Fleming County captains and the referees.

“That night, out on the field, I have no pictures, none, on my phone of anything that happened that night, because I was too busy crying,” Kelly said. “These kids are just like mine. I would do anything in the world for these kids. It made me so happy to see him out there on the field.”

Lewis is still known for his hugs, Kelly said, which he demonstrated in greeting a reporter in his classroom on Wednesday afternoon.

Kelly is in her 24th year teaching at Greenup County. She said the peer tutoring program began in 1996, when about eight to 10 kids participated. Now, 25 or 26 are involved, Kelly said, from just about every social circle of the school.

Lewis’s mother, Carissa Blanton, was a peer tutor when she attended Greenup County, Kelly said, and finding out Lewis would be in Kelly’s class eased her mind about sending him to her alma mater.

“The peer tutoring program here that we have has really forged these kids together, and it’s been a long road to get these kids to where they are,” Kelly said. “The acceptance that we see here at Greenup County High School is amazing.”

In this instance, at least, that’s partially fostered by the Musketeers. Greenup County has continually built its football product from owning the state’s longest losing streak in 2013 to, this week, being ranked in the Associated Press poll for the first time since 1978.

Grizzle talks about more than on-field results, though, in program-building.

“We want those guys to be leaders on and off the field,” he said. “We tell those guys all the time, but JFL Night makes it a little more close to home, when you see all the young kids out there. I tell them, the way that our high school players look up to college and NFL players, that’s how the young JFL kids look up to them. There’s always eyes on them in the community.”

That hits home to Sammons.

“It’s just being part of something bigger than yourself,” Greenup County’s junior quarterback said. “Just having everybody in the community come out Friday night, packing the stands, it just means so much.”

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zklemme@dailyindependent.com