River Ridge Middle School football player scores emotional touchdown

- During the play of the season, football fans in Pasco County rose to their feet for a touching display of team spirit.

Tuesday night, the River Ridge Middle School football team brought team captain Gavin Lambert onto the field and walked him, arm in arm, to the end zone to score the final touchdown.

Gavin has tackled a lot in his young years. He has Friedreich's Ataxia, a neuromuscular degenerative disease affecting nearly every part of his body.

"He obviously has trouble walking," said his mother, Dawn Lambert. "It creates different issues with the body, scoliosis, heart disease, diabetes, hearing loss, vision loss, the list is endless."

Despite all that, he's never once let that keep in on the sidelines. Gavin's heart will forever be on the football field.

"I always see everyone else playing," Gavin said. "And, I always wanted to do it." 

There's no question that on the River Ridge Middle School football team, he's a key player.

"He's our captain every day," said teammate Justin Hennessy. "We know him as Gavin Lambert. He's one of us. He's in our family."

"The players just feed off of him," said coach Jeff Koos. "Gavin is just positive. Everything he goes through, he always has a smile on his face. He always wants to give you a high five, always joking around."

"Seeing that smile just brightens everything up no matter what," said teammate Noah St. Aubin. 

It's that smile and spirit that helped fuel the Royal Knights toward an undefeated season. Still, there was one more touchdown to be scored. A much more personal one.

"They're the ones that approached me about it," Koos said.

"We all got the idea to have him score," St. Aubin said.

It was the fourth quarter, Tuesday night.

"We had no idea what to expect or how it would be done but they made it happen," Dawn Lambert said.

Under the bright lights, No. 61, Gavin Lambert took the field. 

"We started chanting his name and we brought him out to the field," Hennessy said. "And then, our quarterback Logan Howard, he said, 'hike.' He gave him the ball."

Step by step, arm in arm, Gavin clutched the football and crossed into the end zone.

"And then, I scored," Gavin said, smiling.

"Watching him cross that goal line," Dawn Lambert said, I turned around and there wasn't a dry eye."

It was so much more than a few extra points on the scoreboard. It was a lesson out of life's playbook.

"He's fighting the same fight we are but his fight is a lot harder than ours," St. Aubin said.

"That made me feel like, if you set your mind to it, you can do anything you want to," Gavin said.

At River Ridge, what was once known as the "end zone" is now the "Gavin Line." 

"Whatever he tackles in life, he goes 110 percent with a smile on his face,"  Dawn Lambert said. "You never know what's next for Gavin. He's gonna have one heck of a book to write when he gets old, I think."

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