It’s rare that a recruit can have so much impact before ever touching the field.
Sixteen-year-old Peyton Longo from Cheektowaga has done just that and officially signed on as a member of the Bulls last Friday.
Longo suffers from a neuromuscular disease called Bethlem Myopathy, a form of muscular dystrophy. Longo has spent time with the team this past year attending practices and playing video games with them. This relationship was made possible through Team IMPACT, a non-profit organization that helps connect children facing serious and chronic illnesses with local college athletic teams.
“It’s a great opportunity for our players to interact with Peyton and they really enjoy having him around,” head coach Lance Leipold said. “He’s been here every day he says he’s going to be here, watching practice, no matter the weather. It shows his dedication. I think it’s awesome to have somebody who wants to be part of our program just as much as we want to be a part of this.”
Coaches offered Longo the ability to use the suites during the cold-weather practices last season but he insisted he wanted to be down on the field.
At the end of practice, every player comes to shake his hand and thank him for coming out.
They ask about his day and how school is going, and that was no different on Friday. Every player walked by and shook the his hand, congratulating Longo on being part of the team.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity that he probably won’t get as he finishes high school,” Longo’s mother Kim said. “For him to be able to be a part of this team has really given him a lot of confidence and it’s been fun watching the players getting to know him. It’s brought him out of his shell a little bit.”
Longo said that the players he’s grown closest to are Eddie Wilson, James and Jaret Patterson and Theo Anderson. Wilson and Longo have played Madden a couple of times with Longo winning each time.
“Really all the guys have been just really incredible,” Longo said. “Incredibly nice and accepting and it’s been great.”
Longo’s moments with the team allow him to take his mind off his illness. Longo has continuous muscle tightness that makes it difficult for him to even tie his own shoes. He loses everyday functions that people take for granted.
He does physical therapy at school three times a week and his parents stretch out his muscles every night at home.
Longo spends the majority of his time in his motorized wheelchair but at home he has the ability to use a machine to stand and walk around so he can stretch all the muscles in his legs on a daily basis.
Still this has done little to deter Longo from following the Bulls. He traveled to Detroit for the Mid-American Conference Championship game and to Mobile, Alabama for the Dollar General Bowl.
Longo remembers the MAC championship as a tough game, but it put things such as how great of a season the team had and his ability to be a part of it into perspective.
Last year on his birthday, the Bulls were practicing at the ADPro Fieldhouse in Orchard Park. The entire team came over to him after practice and sang as Anthony Johnson gave him a football used by the team.
Longo says it’s his favorite memory.
Longo will wear number one with the Bulls and be on the sidelines for as many practices and games he can make it to this season.
Nathaniel Mendelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NateMendelson