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A touching touchdown
Denair youth with Down Syndrome experiences the thrill of the end zone
Julian Ruelas (holding the football) celebrates with the Denair Lions youth football team after scoring a touchdown. - photo by Photo Contributed

For the past three years, 5-year-old Julian Ruelas has watched his brothers play for the Denair Lions youth football team from the sidelines. Last Saturday, Julian finally got his chance to take the field and score a touchdown as the entire football stadium chanted his name.

Born with Down Syndrome, Julian’s mother, Deanna, said that it is unlikely he will ever get to play football, which made his touchdown a special moment for the Ruelas family. Julian’s father, Jesse, announces games for the Lions and was able to call Julian’s touchdown from the press box.

“It was such a fun thing for him,” said Deanna. “I don’t think he understands that he may not ever play, so just to be able to go out there on the field was awesome.”

Julian’s big play came thanks to a suggestion from Lions head coach Gabe Durkee.

“He said, ‘He’s been cheering us on for three years. It’s about time he gets to go on the field and score a touchdown,’” said Deanna. “We can’t thank him enough.”

Following the game on Saturday afternoon, the Denair Lions and the Merced Blue Devils met up at the line of scrimmage for one final play. From the 20-yard line, Julian was handed the ball and dashed into the end zone with some help from his teammates. He even made some quality blocks for himself, said Deanna, pushing his opponents out of his way to clear the path. As he crossed into the end zone, something amazing happened.

“They were chanting his name,” said Deanna.

The crowd at the Denair High School football stadium erupted into cheers of Julian’s name, ecstatic for the young boy and his first-ever touchdown.

“It made the moment that much bigger,” said Deanna. “It was amazing.”

Julian’s brothers, Jesse and Josiah, also play for the Lions and were able to watch their brother’s big moment.

“For my other two boys to watch the touchdown was an overwhelming moment for them,” said Deanna.

“I thought he did great,” said Jesse. “I felt happy for him, and my favorite part was when everybody was huddled around him and started chanting his name.”

Julian and his family are Oakland Raiders fans, and Julian has been to a few games himself. His appreciation for football stemmed from his own family’s love for the game.

“He knows about football and knows we’re all into it, and so he’s into it,” said Deanna.

Though Deanna doesn’t plan to sign up Julian for youth football anytime soon, she hasn’t ruled out the possibility for the future. Since scoring his touchdown on Saturday, sitting on the sidelines at his brothers’ football practice is much more difficult for the five year old.

“Now, he wants to put the pads on and get back on the field,” said Deanna.