Team manager makes the most of his single Senior Night play
There were more than a few wet eyes Friday night at Green Canyon High School when the Wolves’ varsity seniors on the football team were introduced for the final regular season home game.
That’s to be expected as emotions run high on Senior Night, and parents have a tendency to tear up when their sons are introduced before the opening kickoff of the last home game.
But there was also another reason for Green Canyon fans to be extra emotional. Team manager Jonny Stott, also a senior, was dressed for the game against Logan. And not only was he in a football uniform, but was announced as the starting quarterback.
When the Wolves’ offense took the field for the first time in last Friday night’s game, No. 82 trotted out as the signal caller. Stott lined up in the shotgun, took the snap and completed a pass to wide receiver Ty Spencer for a 3-yard gain.
The home crowd went nuts after the play, and Stott left the field, but not before many high fives from teammates, as well as some Logan Grizzly defenders. He spent the rest of the game on the sidelines in uniform cheering for his teammates. Green Canyon won the game in overtime, 36-35.
But there is so much more to this story than a team manager getting a chance to dress for a game and see action for one play.
Stott was born with a rare genetic mutation that left him with paralyzed muscles in his legs, feet, arms, shoulders, face and elsewhere. He has defied diagnosis after diagnosis during his life, but playing in a football game didn’t seem possible for the big BYU fan. That is until last Friday night.
“I had emotions,” said Stott when asked about starting. “I was so happy that I was starting at quarterback.”
From what the Stott family has learned, most children with similar mutations do not live long and spend what years they do have in wheelchairs. But not the son of David and LaLoni Stott of North Logan.
Despite not being able to breathe or swallow when he was born, Johnny has been a fighter. When told he wouldn’t be able to do things, his response, according to family members, is “watch me.”
He has had surgeries, bumps and bruises along the way. Recently he was able to go up stairs without using his hands. His motivation, according to his sister: “So I can carry milk up the stairs for mom and someday carry my own kids up the stairs.”
After a surgery on both of his feet, his parents were told to not expect him to be up and around for a few days, according to a favorite story. They walked into his room to find him jumping on the bed and wanting to go shoot the basketball.
“The wheelchair that he was supposed to be confined to was never even considered,” wrote LaLoni Heath, a sister, in an email to The Herald Journal. “Any and all who meet Jonny are soon challenged to play one-on-one anything.”
Brother David Stott confirmed that and warned anyone accepting his challenge.
“He gets ticked if I take it easy when we play basketball,” David said.
The annual Greenville Mile took extra time each year, but Johnny finished to the roar of “Jonny, Jonny” and “Go, Jonny, go.” He plays on the Green Canyon Ultimate Frisbee B team that won a state title. Jonny is also an Eagle scout and did not have any special accommodations in earning it. His picture is on the Hero Wall in the BYU football facility.
He was held back a year in school as a child because of his speech and writing. However, this past summer he decided he wanted to graduate with those his age. Jonny spent the summer doing online classes so he could skip being a junior and become a senior.
The plan for Jonny to play began more than a week before Senior Night. An older brother, David Stott, had gotten the ball rolling by contacting Green Canyon Principal David Swenson, who then talked to Wolves head football coach Craig Anhder.
An idea to honor Jonny with the other seniors on the football team — he has been the team manager since the school opened three years ago — went from having him walk out onto the field to dressing and playing. David did plant a seed of having him play, mentioning it would be a “dream” if he could throw a pass.
“How do you not try and do something?” his brother David said. “He is such an inspiration. … He just never quits. I had to do something to try and give him a chance to do it on the field and show that he doesn’t quit on the field.
“The thing he would have hated most is being one of those kids you see on SportsCenter. While those are amazing, they get the ball and jog down the field with no one playing real defense. That’s not him. He told me he wanted to get hit tonight. Coach Anhder was worried about that and told us over and over football is a mean game. Jonny didn’t want Logan to know or take it easy.”
Swenson was also concerned about the safety of Jonny, but also wanted to help make something happen. Anhder was equally excited to get his team manager on the field and came up with the idea to start him.
“It was so fun to watch the kids rally around him and give him that opportunity to go out and make that play,” Anhder said. “It was a chance to help a kid, so we went for it.”
David, who is 10 years older than Jonny, said he grew up with three sisters and prayed for 10 years for a brother. There ended up being seven siblings in the Stott family.
“His quiet grit, determination, goodness and inability to back down or give up has inspired thousands,” his sister LaLoni said. “He simply works at it until he figures out a way — Jonny’s way.”
Which is what happened in executing his part in Friday’s opening play to perfection. On the Tuesday before Friday’s game, Stott was informed at a practice he was going to get to dress and given his No. 82 jersey. Those there said he shed tears of happiness. Then he was told he was starting at quarterback.
“The O-line set up the play, not sure how they did it,” Jonny said. “It worked.”
That meant he had to go to work perfecting the play. He worked in practice to make sure the pass would reach Spencer, and the Green Canyon offensive line made sure he would not be hit. Logan players were not told about Stott or his condition.
“This whole week we have been working on that play,” Jonny said. “I was confident.”
The emotions started to bubble up Friday before the game.
“When I went into the locker room and started to dress, I was so happy,” Jonny said. “My dreams came true that I was dressing varsity. I was so happy.”
And he completed the pass. His career statistics at Green Canyon as a quarterback will be a perfect throwing percentage.
“Wasn’t that fun?” Anhder said. “He is a kid you want to help succeed in everything he does. He defies the odds and inspires our team. The loudest cheer tonight was when he was introduced as our starting quarterback. That may have beat the game-winning touchdown.”
It most certainly rivaled it.
“People are loving this,” his brother David said. “I’ve gotten so many tweets. Guys on the BYU football team have reached out. He got a message from Zach Wilson, the quarterback at BYU. He (Jonny) was a Thursdays Hero for the BYU team and got to go to a practice.”