Newberry High School (NHS) senior Chance Stevens made it home from boot camp last Friday afternoon just in time to take the football field.
Stevens, who is a new private in the United States Army National Guard, was not dressed in his #54 offensive lineman uniform. Instead the 17-year-old came in his Army combat uniform, fresh from 10 weeks of training at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia.
As the players waited by the locker rooms to make their entrance, 13 American flags were handed out representing each of the U.S. service members killed in the Aug. 26 bombing attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.
The NHS cheer team lined both sides of a giant "Newberry Panthers" banner as the announcer said his long, drawn out "Here come your Newberry Panthers!" With Stevens in the lead, he burst through the sign and those 13 flags streamed across the field straight toward the fans in the stands.
"It was surprising," Stevens said about the moment. "I didn't know it was going to happen and I didn't know the magnitude of the loss of the 13 soldiers that were killed until I got back."
Newberry head football coach Ed Johnson said Stevens has played for the team all four years of high school.
"We celebrate him and his accomplishments," Johnson said, adding that a parent who supports the NHS Quarterback Club donated the flags for the tribute.
"He is a selfless, hard worker," Johnson said of Stevens. "He's committed, the kids look up to him, and he's a great role model."
Staff Sergeant Kris Clere with the Florida Army National Guard said Stevens' drive is to get into law enforcement. Stevens took advantage of the split option training program, which gives recruits the opportunity to train on weekends while they are still in school and then complete the 10-week basic training.
Now that Stevens has completed that training, he said he will continue to train at Camp Blanding as he prepares for his Advanced Individual Training (AIT), which is where he will learn job skills for his occupational specialty. He said his ultimate goal is to serve his community.
"I always wanted to join the military and I wanted to go to college," he said. "They pay for that."
Stevens said he wants to go the officer route and then enter an aviation program. Eventually, he wants to combine his aviation skills with a civilian job in law enforcement.
This Friday, Stevens said he's looking forward to wearing his football uniform and taking part in the action and celebrating senior night. Mainstreet Daily News will have a live stream broadcast of the game starting at 7:30 p.m.
NHS athletic director Bryan Roundtree said he thought last week's tribute was well received by the fans and the players.
"I thought it was a great way for our players and coaches to honor the fallen heroes that gave so much for our country," he said. "From talking to some community members, they really appreciated the gesture."