Friday night’s opportunity in front of Markus Baxley — a Tate High senior with cerebral palsy — was once far-fetched.
“One of the biggest things my mom tells people: I was not supposed to walk, wasn’t supposed to talk and was never supposed to live past two (years old),” said Baxley, who will join the Tate Aggies as an honorary team member as they host the Pace Patriots tonight. “Now, I’m almost 18 (years old) and I’m fixin’ to have the biggest night of my life Friday night.”
Friday night he will get the chance to walk the walk and talk the talk of a Tate Aggie football player, something he’s dreamed about for as long as he can remember.
To add to his special moment, he will suit up to play one down of football just moments before kickoff at Pete Gindl Stadium.
“This opportunity means a lot to me, it has been an honor and privilege to be a part of this (Tate) team,” Baxley said. “It’s only once in a blue moon that somebody like me gets this opportunity, so you better not let it slip through your fingers.”
A lifetime football fan with a glowing passion for the sport, Baxley has been close with several of Tate football’s seniors for four years, with common discussions involving Baxley’s favorite teams — Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, University of Florida and, of course, the Tate Aggies.
Baxley’s first Tate football game he attended was hosted by the Pace Patriots, and that was when his deep connection with the Aggies was sparked.
“I went to the Pace-Tate game and I had a blast,” Baxley said. “Growing up I didn’t have many friends — I had my brother and sisters — but ever since my first Tate game, (the Aggies) adopted me as a family member of this team.
“I couldn’t have gotten over some of the obstacles from the last four years without them (Tate football).”
Baxley seems to hold the gift of gab, as he mixed strong supportive “coach speak” with hilarious banter during downtime at practice in the week leading up to Friday’s game. He is all about a good time, as long as the fun is had before, during or after an Aggies victory.
“Man, Friday night’s (football games) at Tate are lit … it’s nothing but friends and family,” Baxley said. “Friday night I expect to score a TD and keep these boys (Tate Aggies) focused on the game. This team is full of great leaders and great friends.
“I don’t know where I would be without these boys behind me pushing me every day. I can’t thank coach (Jay) Lindsey, Mr. (Principal Rick) Shackle, the rest of the coaches and all of the football players enough.”
While special is an understatement for Baxley’s upcoming moment, he hasn’t been the only one benefiting from his time with the Aggies.
“That’s the reason why kids gravitate towards him (Baxley) — it’s not just the football team, the Tate student body really likes Markus — his personality, he is a likable kid and jokes around a lot,” Tate coach Jay Lindsey said. “It’s always special on Friday nights at Tate.
“But any chance you get to to do something for someone and help them accomplish a dream, people are going to get fired up for it. Regardless of special needs, people around here are very gracious. It’s a positive experience and a feel-good story. People are fired up.”