'The Secret Weapon' scores a touchdown
A.J. Fulbright dashes for the end zone in the Cobras game last Saturday against the Red Devils.
BY HALEY JONES
In a close game, with just enough time for one more play, the East Elementary football coach yelled, “Where’s my secret weapon?”
After waiting patiently on the sidelines the entire game, quarterback A.J. Fulbright ran onto the field.
In the 10 seconds that followed, No. 68 took the snap from center and rumbled down the field, cutting through defenders as supporters for both teams cheered until A.J. crossed the goal line for a touchdown.
For his friends, teammates and family members, it was a moment to remember.
For the 11-year-old touchdown-maker, it was a dream come true.
A.J. was born with a neural tube defect called an encephalocele, in which the skull doesn't close and the brain protrudes through. As a result, he developed hydrocephalus and endured four brain surgeries before he was four months old.
Before A.J. was born, doctors predicted A.J. would never walk, talk or even feed himself. His parents were advised to abort the pregnancy.
Thanks to the efforts of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center neurosurgeon Dr. Steven Glazier, A.J. talked at six months, crawled at 10 months and walked at 14 months, the Fulbrights said.
A decade later, A.J. continues to be monitored by the neurosurgeon. He had a cranioplasty at age 3 to repair the hole. But he cannot participate in sports because of the risk of serious injury. That hasn’t stopped him from being part of the team and dreaming of playing.
During last Saturday’s Pink-Out game between the Cobras and Red Devils at West Iredell High School, A.J. got his big chance. The coaches hatched a plan and both football teams understood the importance of not contacting A.J.
“The reason we are all out here is for the kids,” said Cobras’ football coach Mike Bowman.
Earlier in the week A.J. suited up at practice and learned he was the “secret weapon” for the big game against the Red Devils.
“We try to teach more than just football, but life lessons as well. Ashton is such an inspiration to the coaches and the players. We are blessed to have him as a part of our Cobra family. Watching him get to do something he has always dreamed of will mean as much to his teammates and coaches as it does to Ashton.”
A.J. has helped out as the team manager throughout the season. He often leads the team in warmups and offers advice. His best contribution, however, might be the pre-game pep talks and chants he leads to fire up the team before and after games.
“The goal is to keep my people hyped,” A.J. explained.
When asked about his game plan before Saturday’s game, he was clear on his role.
“My play is called ‘the secret weapon,’ ” he whispered. “My goal is to score a touchdown. I’m going to run as fast as a cheetah on a treadmill.”
Watching him do just that was an incredible experience for his parents, Chris and Joni Fulbright.
“It’s a great opportunity for him,” Chris said. “He’s been waiting to play sports his whole life so this is a great opportunity for his mom and I, and our whole family to watch him fulfill his dream.”
After scoring the touchdown, A.J. was swarmed in the end zone by his teammates. His parents and younger brother, who gave A.J. a big hug, were right behind them.
“This moment is so precious to us,” Joni said, choking up. “Our friends and families have been so good to us in helping his dreams come true.”