by Jason Quick from the Oregonian:
I wrote about Oregon running back Byron Marshall in today’s Oregonian, which details why his family has nicknamed him “Big” ... but there’s another person in San Jose who happens to think Marshall is bigger than life.
His name is Andrew Watson, and he has been the team manager for Valley Christian High for the past 15 years. He is 30 years old, has Down Syndrome. and is somewhat of a legend around the Valley Christian community.
Watson is so close to the football program, he inspired coach Mike Machado seven years ago to start Camp for the Stars, the first football camp in the nation for kids with Down Syndrome. The camp has since branched to Pittsburgh, PA and draws celebrities such as former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci, former 49ers players Dana Stubblefield, Ronnie Lott and Keena Turner to name a few.
Here is a great video about the camp, which I guarantee will make you smile.
The camp is hosted at Valley Christian, and each summer the campers get to choose a player from the team to be their counselor.
“Every year when it came time for Andrew to pick, there was never a doubt who he was going with,’’ Machado said. “It was B.’’
Said Marshall: “Andrew is such a cool kid. We got close.’’
Marshall doesn’t know how to explain their bond, it’s just something that is there he says, and Machado said it was beyond a manager being infatuated with the school star.
“When Andrew would get dropped off at the school, he would immediately find Byron,’’ Machado said. “He was like a hunting dog. I wouldn’t always see when he found Byron, but I could always hear from some back hallway ‘Hey ‘Drew!’ and then ‘Byron!’ Then they would hug, play around, and then Andrew would follow him around. They had a pretty neat relationship. And now, there’s probably not a bigger Byron Marshall fan in front of the TV.’’Marshall still works at the two-day camp in the summer, and finds himself looking forward to it. The campers dive to catch passes, falling into a padded pit. They learn how to take a handoff and score a touchdown, complete with improvising their own touchdown dance. And they practice wrapping up a tackling dummy. Then, on the second day, they play a flag football game.
Through it all, Marshall is in the middle of it all. Laughing, helping, encouraging. He said he found the kids with Down Syndrome are really the same as everyone else. They just might take longer to understand or do things that come naturally to most.
“I love working that camp,’’ Marshall said. “It’s their moment, and it’s crazy how competitive they are.’’
And Machado said the kids love having Marshall.
“I’ve told people for years, that I come across professional people and successful people who struggle being around people who are different,’’ Machado said. “It’s not that they are bad people, but it’s a level of comfort. But Byron, has never shied away from it at all, he is always comfortable. He is one of the stars.’’