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Prescott student with Down syndrome gets a football night he’ll never forget

Prep Football

Ryan Tardibuono (52) is lifted by Prescott football players after scoring a 25-yard touchdown run before the game against Mingus on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, in Prescott. Tardibuono, who has Down syndrome, is a senior at Prescott and it was his dream to play football. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Ryan Tardibuono (52) is lifted by Prescott football players after scoring a 25-yard touchdown run before the game against Mingus on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, in Prescott. Tardibuono, who has Down syndrome, is a senior at Prescott and it was his dream to play football. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

by Brian M. Bergner Jr.

Ryan Tardibuono flips coin, scores 25-yard TD for his Badgers

PRESCOTT — In what will likely go down as the most memorable 25-yard touchdown run any Badger football fan has ever seen, Prescott senior Ryan Tardibuono put on his No. 52 jersey for the first and last time Friday night, crossing the goal line with a pride and excitement only a true fan could show.

Tardibuono, who has Down syndrome, approached Prescott running back Sylas Espitia a few weeks back after seeing him walking in the hallway wearing his No. 1 jersey on homecoming.

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Ryan Tardibuono scores a touchdown before the Prescott Badgers play cross mountain rival Mingus for the region title Friday, Oct. 26, 2018 in Prescott. (Les Stukenberg/Courier).

“He asked me how football was going,” Espitia recalled. “And I asked him if he ever wanted to play football, and he said, ‘Man it’s my dream to play football, but I really can’t.’”

Espitia right then and there set the wheels in motion for Friday night’s appearance in front of a Week 11 crowd hoping to celebrate a region title, but instead got to celebrate one of their own.

“I told him I would try and work things out, get him in a game,” Espitia said. “I saw the biggest smile on his face. Getting him out here is something I’ll never forget from high school, no matter what.”

Espitia approached Prescott Athletic Director Missy Townsend after his conversation with Tardibuono in the hallway, and she immediately went to work to make Friday night happen, calling the Arizona Interscholastic Association to clear him, the head of officials, even the Mingus football program to make sure it was OK.

The result? A Badger football fan was able to be fitted with full pads and a No. 52 jersey, flip the coin before the game and then walk out onto the gridiron for the only play Prescott fans will remember from Friday night.

“It’s an honor,” Tardibuono said about being able to suit up for the Badgers, even if it was just for one play, adding that he looks forward to life after high school, finding himself an apartment and potentially working at his favorite Mexican restaurant.

“I love Mexican food … I love tacos and stuff, I can’t stop eating them,” he said with a big smile.

There were no words to describe Tardibuono’s face after he crossed the goal line, just pure joy spilling out onto the field as his newly found teammates lifted him to the sky.

And his buddy Espitia? He was right there with him.

Brian M. Bergner Jr. is news/sports editor for The Daily Courier of Prescott News Network. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and SoundCloud at @TheEditorDesk. Email bbergner@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 1106.