New Brunswick

'Go get 'em, Tom': Football player with autism races for touchdown

A 16-year-old football player who was born with autism stepped on the field on Saturday to play his first game for the Tantramar Regional High School Titans.

'Everything literally fell into place perfectly … it was wonderful for the family and for Thomas'

Thomas Lafford, centre, is surrounded by his family and coaches after playing in his first game and scoring his first touchdown. (Alexandra Lafford/Facebook)

With fewer than 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Thomas Lafford got the chance he's been waiting for.

The crowd roared and cowbells echoed from the stands as the 16-year-old player, who was born with autism, stepped onto a Sackville, N.B., football field Saturday.

Though he's been a player for several years, it was Thomas' first time playing in one of the Tantramar Regional High School Titans' games.

"Go get 'em, Tom," someone said from the stands just before his brother Jeffrey, playing quarterback that play, yelled "hut!"

The ball flew into Jeffrey's hands and he passed it off to Thomas, who started making his way to the end zone, cutting right then left.

'Go get 'em, Tom'

The crowd continued to clap as Thomas made his way down the field skirting through defenders and crossing the goal line for a touchdown.

The Titans' bench emptied as players stormed the field cheering.

 

"He's smiling but he's almost in shock," Jeffrey, the 17-year-old captain of the football team, said of his brother reaching the endzone.

"When he turned around everyone was yelling and running towards him …  he had a smile on his face the whole way down, it was really exciting."

'It was a real big moment for their team'

Titans' head coach Scott O'Neal set up the play beforehand with Mark Teed, head coach of Harrison Trimble Trojans.

"Everything literally fell into place perfectly … it was wonderful for the family and for Thomas," O'Neal said. "It was obviously very emotional for a lot of people and great for our program and the family."

Thomas Lafford crosses the goal line for his first touchdown. (Alexandra Lafford/Facebook)

Jeffrey, the middle child, never had the chance to play with a one of his brothers before, since his older went off to prep school. When Thomas stepped onto the field on Saturday, he couldn't help but smile.

 "It was a really good feeling," Jeffrey said, who left his usual post as wide receiver for the play in order to hand the ball off to his little brother.

'Thomas keeps you accountable'

O'Neal said it was a fitting moment for Thomas, who's been a inspiring motivator for the players and coaches on and off the field.

"Thomas keeps you accountable, I'll put it that way," he said.

"He's always asking the coaches what's next on the practice plan and making sure we're staying in line. He's just a good kid to have around, he's always in a good mood and he's wonderful to have around for the rest of the kids."

'What Titan football is about'

The boys' mother, Alexandra Lafford, said Thomas was a bit too shy to speak about the celebration but Jeffrey summed up the moment for the family and the team.

"Tom getting in the game, and both the teams collaborating and giving him a chance to run the ball and get in the end zone, just really shows what Titan football is about, what the league is about and the Harrison Trimble team," he said.

"We play hard, we want to win but when it comes down to it plays like Tom's is what really matters."

About the Author

Cody MacKay

Web Writer

Cody hails from Summerside, Prince Edward Island, and is a UPEI History and Carleton Masters of Journalism alum. He joined CBC P.E.I. in July, 2017. Reach him at cody.mackay@cbc.ca

now