At Armwood High School in Seffner, the young men involved in the football program are more than just a team – they’re family.
And one of the “family members,” Luis Aponte, plays a special role that helps inspire the others.
Aponte, a junior at Armwood with autism, is an assistant for the team. He sits at the top of the bleachers with an iPad in his hands to film every practice and never misses a play.
“He films offense and then he goes to defense and then offense,” coach Evan Davis said. “So he is filming the whole practice. He pretty much does everything.”
Aponte joined the football team last year as an assistant after getting an invite from Davis, who was the new head coach at the time.
“I thought he had a lot of energy and he wanted to be involved with stuff. And I thought it was kind of cool to give him something to do at this time of the year and he came out and embraced it,” Davis said.
The team has embraced him too. They chose him to lead them onto the field before every game.
“He has the big hawk flag and he runs out in front of the team,” Davis said. “So he found his own identity.”
The team celebrated Aponte’s 18th birthday with him back in May by moving him into the locker room and giving him a locker.
Aponte actually attends two practices in the afternoons. He goes to cross-country first then football.
“I am really busy here because they want to give me – they want me to make a good team,” he said.
He tackles his responsibilities with positive energy that ends up rubbing off on the other players.
“Luis will come up to you (and say) ‘Are you ready to play football? Are you ready to go to practice?’ Have everyone jumping up and down,” linebacker Ro’al Whittaker said.
His teammates say Aponte continually sets an example by proving anything is possible.
“Him just being around shows you like – even though he fights battles with himself, he still comes every day to show you that he is strong and still fighting,” Whittaker said. “So I know it makes you feel like – I should fight too. Since Luis can fight, I can fight.”