MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Justin Porter, a senior football player from Manatee High School, received the surprise of the season on May 2.
He had been briefed on a small signing day ceremony in front of his family but the actual plan, according to his mother, Ke-Ke Christmas, had evolved into an extravagant parade.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!”
Porter could hardly speak as car after car filled with family, friends, teammates, and coaches drove past his home.
“I knew it was for me,” said Porter, “but I did not know what to think because I was just so shocked. I did not know anything about it.”
“My son did not know anything about it,” boasted Christmas, “like I am going to get the ‘Mother of the Year’ award!”
Christmas knew she had to celebrate her son after the coronavirus pandemic cut his final year of high school short. A parade popped into her head.
“I immediately called my sister and my mom to make sure I was not crazy,” admitted Christmas.
She started to spread the word.
“Everybody was involved,” she said, “so I was really really excited and I think that that is what brought the happy tears.”
The widespread community involvement as well as the way her son reacted to the surprise definitely contributed to her emotional response.
“For her to plan this whole thing for me and show how much love the community and the high school has for me and how much she can do, how much my mother can do for me,” explained Porter, “it was a true blessing.”
He said he will always treasure this exact moment.
“It was just crazy that that happened to me,” he said, “and I had no idea about it!”
Porter, who is a linebacker, will continue his football career at Carson-Newman University in Tennessee.
He finished his senior season at Manatee High School with over 100 tackles while leading the Hurricanes in tackles and in tackles for loss.
Porter went on to win the ‘Defensive Player of the Year’ award given to the best defensive player on the team and also snagged the “Most Athletic” senior superlative voted on by his classmates.
Porter actually broke his ankle during his sophomore season and he was unsure if he would be able to play football again. That scare succeeded in making his accomplishments, both on and off the football field, even sweeter.
His mother said he finished his senior year with a 3.7 GPA.
“My coach, he talked to us every day about our academics and that was the most important thing to him because football players are student-athletes, student comes first,” said Porter, “and I knew what I had to do my senior year for me to be prepared at the next level and to play at the next level so I kind of picked it up late but I am glad I am able to go where I am.”
The drive from his home in Palmetto, Florida to his college in Jefferson City, Tennessee is roughly 10 hours but Porter is not worried about the distance.
“I like exploring,” he said, “so it is great to go to another state and be able to play at the next level.”
Christmas does not seem to be overly concerned about it either.
“We are a very football oriented family,” she said, “so for him to be able to go play at a college he wants to play at is very exciting. I am excited for him to go to the next level to play football.”
Will she be able to attend any of his games? She said she will try to go to every single one of them.
“That is my number one goal,” said Christmas, who has only missed a handful of her three sons’ football games. “We can catch an 8 o’clock flight. The game is at 2 o’clock. We will be back the next day. I am like, ‘Yes!’”