There is a tradition in the high school football program at South Central, a co-op between the towns of Protection and Coldwater in southwestern Kansas – every senior on the team receives a chance to score a touchdown in a game.
South Central senior Zach Jellison carried on the tradition Friday night during South Central’s 53-6 win over Ingalls, as he scored a one-yard touchdown on his first career rushing attempt. Jellison, who was born with spina bifida, carried the ball into the end zone while being pushed in his wheelchair by his cousin, Hunter Huck.
“That was one of the top moments in my life,” said Mike Jellison, Zach’s father. “It ranks right up there, for sure. Zach has always had a lot of different issues growing up, but he’s always been competitive. He’s won a ton of medals in Special Olympics, but to be able to compete on the same field with his classmates … that was very special.”
The plan was conceived early in the week: if South Central broke away for a sure-fire touchdown run, the player would step out at the one-yard line and the team would call a timeout to set up the touchdown run for Jellison. Making it even more special was the family ties that Ingalls coach Veral Teeter has with the Jellisons.
Teeter’s father, Bob, was a good friend of Jellison’s grandfather, while Teeter’s uncle, Johnny, is good friends with Mike Jellison, Zach’s father.
“When they asked me if we would like to be a part of it, I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of something so special,” Teeter said. “My family and his family go back a long ways. (Zach) is always over at my grandma’s house, so there is just too much history to not do something like that.”
The chance came right before halftime, when a South Central player broke free for a long run and instead of scoring, stepped out at the one-yard line.
South Central coach Billy Nichols had put Zach Jellison through a drill during the week to simulate scoring, but he didn’t tell him before the game that he would get his chance. Mike Jellison made sure he was down on the sideline when Nichols told Zach he was going into the game.
“I was pretty sure he was going to tell the coach, ‘No, I can’t play. My dad won’t let me,’ ” Mike Jellison said laughing. “I had to say, ‘Yes, Zach, get in there.’ and me and my brother went over and filmed it.”
Zach was pushed straight up the middle for the touchdown, and both teams congratulated him in the end zone.
“I would give up a touchdown like that every day of the week,” Teeter said. “If you’re only focused about the wins and losses as a coach, then you’re focused on the wrong things. To have a young man be able to fulfill a dream I’m sure he’s been dreaming since he was young, well that was very inspiring to see. It was such a surreal moment.”
Zach even finished off his touchdown with a spike in the end zone.
“I was joking with him after the game and I told him he better watch out, he could have got flagged for that,” Mike Jellison said.
Zach Jellison has always been popular in South Central. His popularity rose even higher after his Friday night heroics on the football field.
“All of a sudden he’s a local celebrity now,” Mike Jellison said. “This community has truly been amazing to us. Zach has been a part of it since Day 1 and everybody has helped support him since Day 1. It’s just a pretty neat way of living out here.”
According to the WebMD website, spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs when the bones of the spine don't form properly around part of a baby's spinal cord.