Collin Curtis attends 6 a.m. practices just like everybody else on the Mountain View High freshman football team.
On Wednesdays, he arrives at school sporting his game jersey, representing the football program the best way he can. On Wednesday nights, Collin runs onto Jesse Parker Field, named after the legendary Mountain View coach who passed away in 2017.
His excitement level matches that of his teammates, knowing very well that soon he will run onto the field on Friday nights as a member of the varsity.
There is one difference between Collin and his teammates, though.
Collin was born with Down syndrome.
That hasn’t stopped him from fulfilling his dream of playing for Mountain View and honoring his late brother, Kevin.
From the day he witnessed Kevin play in the 2006 state championship, to the picture of Kevin catching a pass with the caption, “Toro Tough, 2006,” Collin wanted to play football for Mountain View, too.
“He’s always wanted to play football and I’ve kind of discouraged it because I didn’t want him to get hurt,” said Teri Curtis, Collin’s mother. “He is out there for early-morning practices, and he enjoys going to the weight room. I think when he is doing that he feels close to Kevin.”
Kevin, who graduated from Mountain View in 2007, died of a drug overdose in 2016. He was 26.
The loss of Kevin was devastating for the family. Collin took on the role of comforting everyone, hugging his siblings as if he were telling them it would all be OK.
Reflecting on that day, Teri believes that a 12-year-old Collin wasn’t a child with Down syndrome but an adult knowing that Kevin was watching over them.
“He seemed to have this spirit about him that he knew where Kevin was,” Teri said. “It was interesting. He was very adult and mature at a time where we all were collapsed.”
Collin and Kevin shared a unique bond, to the extent that Teri said Collin idolized his older brother. When Collin was 3, Kevin held him at the 2006 state-championship game, in which the Toros fell to Hamilton.
Kevin, in his No. 47 jersey, shared the special moment with his little brother, not knowing at the time that it would fuel Collin’s desire to play and wear Kevin’s number.
Despite his disability, Collin has become an inspiration for all of the Toros’ freshman players and coaching staff.
On Sept. 5, the freshman Toros traveled to Queen Creek. The final horn sounded and the Toros had lost, 26-16.
But both teams remained on the field.
Mountain View freshman coach Bill Roberts had tried to get Collin into the game the first week of the season, but it didn’t work out.
This time, the teams lined up for one special post-game play. Collin, at running back, took a handoff and ran up the middle of the field for a touchdown. Both crowds erupted as Mountain View and Queen Creek players stormed Collin in the end zone, chanting his name over and over.
“He’s an inspiration to this team and a great teammate,” Roberts said. “Kids coming together and competing as hard as you can, that’s what it’s all about. But at the end of the day, there are bigger things to teach than football. For me, that’s what it is all about, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.
“That moment for him, I think, is something he has dreamed about most of his life.”
It was. It was a thrill for him to score in the same jersey his brother had worn, and it touched everyone in the stands.
“I was really happy,” Collin said. “My family was happy and they all said, ‘Go, Collin!’”
In a video posted to Twitter of Collin’s run, two of his older brothers can be seen near the goal post jumping up and down with joy.
It had also been a dream of Teri’s since she found out she was pregnant with Collin. She set the dream aside after she learned that he had Down syndrome.
To see him now brings her to tears.
“When I saw him in that football uniform, I was reminded that he was doing what I had dreamed of before he was born,” Teri said. “He is playing football for Mountain View. His dream is coming true.”
In Collin’s mind, he doesn’t have a disability. He’s just another freshman playing the game he loves.
The drive and passion he has for the sport and for others – especially his family – motivates him every day to do things others with disabilities normally don’t do.
That includes Kevin, who continues to motivate him every day when Collin looks up at his picture hanging on his bedroom wall.
“I can see his face,” Collin said. “He would be really happy.”