TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Gaither Cowboys, like most high school football teams across the country, have dealt with plenty of uncertainty this season. However, on Friday, they will ride a perfect record into their first playoff game. The source of their strength may surprise you.
“He is a firecracker and that is what I love about him,” said Jason Silbert, the Cowboys offensive coordinator. “I cannot get over the fact that he is 7 years old and he is this strong and he can fight through this.”
Ryan Bowling, who is definitely not camera shy, stole the show like he stole the hearts of the football players at Gaither High School.
“You want to try to give him the world as much as you can,” said Jordan Oladokun, a senior cornerback and wide receiver, “but you really just can’t.”
Ryan is battling cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma and leiomyosarcoma. He was diagnosed in February at around the same time this team was getting into shape for the season.
Jason, who is also Ryan’s PE teacher at Mary Bryant Elementary School, had an idea.
“I saw he had 42 weeks of chemotherapy,” said Jason, “and it just matched up that it was 42 weeks from his chemo treatment and our state title run, if we make it that far, and I thought, ‘Man, what a good way to get these guys to want to push through!’”
He created the #DoIt4Ryan hashtag. That motto has led to an undefeated season and, for Jordan, a new number.
“I originally asked Coach Silbert, I was like, ‘Hey, can you find out what number Ryan is for me? I want to wear it for him this season,’” said Jordan.
“His football shirt says 12 and that is my favorite number,” explained Ryan, “so he changed it from 6 to 12.”
Jordan hopes to wear 12 in the state championship game and, then, in college.
“It will always just bring back something I am doing for Ryan,” said Jordan. “He fights so much and a lot of people do not realize what he goes through and what he is living through right now and I feel like, every time I just wear 12, I am wearing it for a good reason.”
“Inspiration, that is all I can say, he is an inspiration,” said Jason. “He comes to my Zoom meetings after having chemo or having chemo and, as old as I am, I do not even know if I could handle that. He is up and he always has a positive attitude and he is always smiling and it is infectious for sure.”