NORTH RICHLAND HILLS -- Some football players stand out because of their speed and quickness; others because they have a great arm.

Manny Dedmon's smile is what sets him apart.

'Yes, he smiles a lot,' said his mom, Erica Dedmon. 'Big ray of sunshine.'

Manny has autism, but the Birdville football team has embraced him as one of their own.

'Our players really care about Manny,' said head coach Jim Skinner. 'They look after Manny, they take care of Manny, and nobody messes with Manny.'

Manny isn't just a token member of this team. He played with the junior varsity all year long and even scored four touchdowns.

'And everybody goes crazy when he does it,' said Lon Holbrook, Birdville's offensive coordinator. 'We try to take care of him and call a play a certain way. But Manny's got his own play, it's called 'Manny choice.' So he runs the route he wants to run, and the quarterback will throw it.'

Children with autism often struggle socially. That's obviously not a problem for Manny now, but it was.

'When Manny first got here, he was really shy and didn't really talk to us that much,' said wide receiver Jake Bransford.

He has become Manny's best friend on the team and drives him back and forth to practice.

'They said he would never have friends; he would probably never get married because he couldn't interact with people,' Erica Dedmon said. 'I was like, 'Oh no, not mine. I'm sorry. No, not 'never.' I don't do 'never.''

'He wasn't able to put a complete sentence together until he was about five years old,' said Manny's dad, Michael Dedmon. 'But as you can see now, he's doing it.'

The little autistic boy who would never have friends now has enough to fill a fieldhouse. We asked him what he likes most about playing on the Birdville football team.

'With my buddies, my friends, [...] the coaches,' Manny said. 'Yeah. Like family to me.'


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