By Alaa Elassar, CNN
Jasen Bracy is unstoppable when he’s on the football field.
The 15-year-old Modesto Raiders starting quarterback is completely blind — and a merciless athlete, passing the ball, running touchdowns and breaking tackles.
“I never used even once that I can’t see as an excuse. Never have, never will,” Jasen, who lives in Modesto, California, told CNN. “I told my team that the only difference between me and the other quarterback is that he has a different number, and that’s it.”
The young star grew up enjoying the sport three days a week every time football season came around, with his father narrating every detail. Immediately, Jasen says, he knew that was his passion.
“Maybe one day I’ll be on TV on the football field myself,” Jasen said he told himself every day. “There’s no limits, and if there’s something in the way, I’ll find out how to get around it or over it. I’ll find a way to achieve my goal in the best way possible.”
Jasen has been blind since he was a young child. When he was 1 year old, he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a cancer that causes tumors in the retinas.
Over the next six years, he underwent numerous treatments, but nothing was successful. By his 7th birthday, he was completely blind. All he can tell, he says, is when it’s morning or night time.
Despite growing up without his sight, Jasen never felt self-conscious or hesitant to follow his dreams. And football was just one of the firsts he was going to make come true.
Aiming for the top
When Jasen turned 13, his parents gave him an iPhone to offer more accessibility options.
He got to work, calling every football team in the area and asking if they would give him a try without his parents knowing.
“All of a sudden, one day we get a call from Coach David Nichols saying, ‘Hey, I got a call from your son asking if he can come play football for us, but did he say he was blind?'” Jasen’s father, Jasen Bracy Sr., told CNN.
But unlike the many other teams who rejected Jasen, Nichols, who coaches the Modesto Raiders, was ready to give him a chance.
“When I first took him on I was a little skeptical, but once I saw him as a person, I knew this kid could do anything,” Nichols told CNN. “I’ve always accepted him, but I was like ‘How am I going to do this?’ Once you see him out there it’s different.”
Jasen shocked his team, immediately putting on the uniform and mastering techniques needed to play football without seeing the field, players or ball.
He memorized each play, including the position every player has to maintain on the field. His father stands on the sidelines, speaking to him through a walkie talkie to narrate the visuals.
“He knows where to be at, where to hand the ball off, where the kid’s going to be at, he knows how to get the points,” Nichols said.
Jasen has proved he’s a force to be reckoned with, even leading his team to a victory in September by scoring a running touchdown during a match against a team that had rejected him.
Usually, the opposing team doesn’t even realize Jasen is blind, and if they don’t already know, he doesn’t tell them.
“I don’t tell them, not before or after the game, so they don’t even think about easing up on me,” he said. “I’m the quarterback, and one of the quarterback’s jobs is leading the team. As a leader, I have to take control of this team, lead them through good and bad times no matter the situation I have to get us through. And I’m tough as iron. I am going to play hard.”
A team that made it possible
When Bracy realized his son would be blind for the rest of his life, his first thoughts were that he would never get to see him play baseball or football, he said.
“All I know is that we are lucky the cancer didn’t spread to his head or into anything life threatening,” he said. “I was always grateful I still had my son, I can still talk to him, laugh and joke with him because he has a great sense of humor. I can still watch sports with him by commentating to him what was happening throughout the game.”
Football isn’t the only thing Jasen can do. He excels in numerous sports, including swimming, golf, baseball and wrestling. His dreams are boundless, and nothing seems out of reach to him.
But his heart, Jasen says, lies in football and his focus is on reaching the National Football League. Nichols is determined to help the young talent reach whatever goal he has in mind.
“Just seeing him, he shows me there’s nothing you can’t do, and that reflects on the other kids. Ever since hes been on my team, the team gravitate around him,” Nichols said. “It changes their whole outlook on life. He makes the season. Even if we don’t win, just having that chemistry with the team has probably been one of the best things I’ve ever been around.”
Along with his perseverance and talent, Jasen also credits the support of his father, friends and team in making his dream a reality.
“I want to especially thank my coach for giving me the chance to put on the pads, put on the helmet, and prove what i can do on the field,” he said.
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