Two opposing football teams came together for a special moment Friday night.
Santa Ynez coach Josh McClurg worked with Santa Maria coach Dan Ellington to make it all possible.
Santa Ynez senior Alec Watson, a student and the football team's manager who was born with a congenital heart defect, had dreamed of playing football for the Pirates. But, as his mom Leanna puts it, his health challenges never really made that a possibility.
"He had two open-heart surgeries before age 1. He was in intensive care for his first year and had a tracheostomy and had a ventilator and a feeding tube for the first two years," Leanna Watson said Friday night. "He's had a tremendous amount of health challenges and it has been truly miraculous that he's alive."
Despite all those hurdles, Watson is a thriving young member of the SYVUHS community. He's been a team manager for most of his high school career. He's even an Eagle Scout.
But on Friday, the big highlight for Watson came on the football field. The very first play of the Pirates' game against Santa Maria was drawn up for one player and one player only: Watson.
The senior received a handoff from quarterback Dusty Gregg and ran right, gaining about six yards before he was pushed out of bounds by Santa Maria senior Jonathan Ramos. Both the Saints and the Pirates knew the play design and Ramos was sure to apply the right amount of force in his tackle on Watson.
Still, when Watson received the ball, the crowd at Pirate Stadium erupted.
"It felt really great, you know, from the support of the team and from Santa Maria," Watson said. "It felt great to finally put on the pads and get one play."
McClurg said he'd been planning this special moment since last season. He figured the right team to plan it with was Ellington's Saints.
"Getting to know Dan through the FCA All-Star Game, we became pretty good friends," McClurg said. "I knew Dan is a stand-up guy. I just approached him with the idea and he was down with it. He told the team and they were down with it. We filmed us surprising Alec during a team meeting and sent the video to Dan and he showed his team. So my hat is off to Dan and his team."
Though the moment was certainly a big one for Watson, he's been charging through would-be tacklers for most his life. He became an Eagle Scout earlier this year and has organized blood drives in the Valley the last two years.
"He's had over 70 units of blood from transfusions," Leanna said of Alec. "We finally stopped counting. For his Eagle Scout project a few years ago, he did a big blood drive that he's continued every year because we've had such amazing community support. The entire Santa Ynez Valley has really rallied around him and has been so excited to see him play."
Watson admitted it may be difficult transitioning back to the his team manager role this week as the Pirates play at Morro Bay.
"I kind of want to get back out there," Watson said after Friday's game. "The team huddled around me. It felt really good."
Though Watson isn't likely to get another carry for the Pirates, something that will continue is his friendship with coach McClurg.
"He's been really great with me. We talk about sports all the time and he's been a really great friend," Watson said of his coach.