FULTON — There was a football game played on Friday night at Caston, but the main event everyone was waiting for was when Hunter Shaffer returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
Shaffer was born with cerebral palsy and needs a wheelchair for mobility. He also needs an eye-gaze device to be able to fully communicate.
But he has persevered through it all and Friday night was his time to shine.
The kickoff return was well planned out. Culver’s kickoff went to the Comets, who lateraled the ball back to Shaffer’s best friend and senior classmate, Hunter Schanlaub.
Schanlaub handed the ball off to Shaffer, who embarked on an 85-yard run for a touchdown.
Everything went perfectly, well almost.
“Before we went out there he was shaking so bad he couldn’t even drive, so I was like I’m just going to drive him,” Schanlaub said.
The Comets lost a couple fumbles in key situations during the game, but not Shaffer.
“I kept telling him, ‘don’t fumble, don’t fumble,’ and he didn’t,” Schanlaub said.
Before the game Shaffer said he wanted the security of senior classmate Sam DuVall, a 6-foot-2, 298-pound lineman, blocking for him on the kickoff return. Sure enough, DuVall was out in front giving him a clear path to the end zone.
Schanlaub said he started to feel the emotions of Shaffer’s moment as they got closer and closer to the goal-line.
“We were about at the 15 and Mr. [Don] King started commentating ‘the 10, the 5,’ and I was like, this really is something different,” he said.
The Comet cheerleaders were crying tears of joy and admiration when Shaffer was making his run, and the student section swarmed him after he scored his touchdown.
The RTCtv4 broadcast stated it was probably the most important touchdown in Caston history.
Caston coach Tony Slocum said it was only fitting that Shaffer scored a touchdown as he is a big part of the team. He is one of the team captains.
“I love having him around,” Slocum said. “I’m going to miss him. As I told the Culver team when I talked to them, he’s out here in the cold, he’s out here in the heat, the rain. He is part of our football team. He is part of our football family. I’m going to miss him, he’s been around here almost as long as I have.
“It was tough not to tear up. So I’m glad I had my sunglasses on. I’m proud of all the team and I told the Culver guys I was proud of them for participating. They won the game but that was a win for Hunter and his family.”
There were not too many dry eyes in attendance at what was a packed house at the Crater. A signed football by Culver given to Shaffer also stated that he is “an inspiration to us all.”
Shaffer’s big night wasn’t over after his touchdown. He was also named Homecoming King at halftime. Aubrey Dague was named Homecoming Queen. Caston fans also congratulated Shaffer and his Caston teammates after the contest in the handshake/hug line that has become a tradition after every game.
Also known as Team Hunter and Hunter Squared, Shaffer and Schanlaub have a unique bond. Their favorite sport is football. They are both big Alabama Crimson Tide fans. Shaffer’s favorite NFL team is the Indianapolis Colts, while Schanlaub’s is the Detroit Lions. Shaffer also stated his future plans are to wear No. 90 for the New York Giants. So perhaps the two will someday make a trip to the Big Apple together.
Shaffer’s future plans also include following Schanlaub’s college football career. Schanlaub plans to major in electrical engineering, but perhaps he will never learn any more important lessons than he has learned from Shaffer.
“Oh my goodness, that life isn’t ever as bad as it seems. Because this kid can have a month that was miserable, and then he just sees me and lights up. It’s never as bad as it seems and you can make any day good.”