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Prep football: A memorable run for MLWR's Moffett

Dave Harwig / For the News Tribune Moose Lake-Willow River's Bo Moffett (left) runs with the football during the Rebels' Nov. 1 win over Royalton in the Section 7AA final. Moffett, a senior with a genetic disorder known as Williams syndrome, scored a 62-yard touchdown on the play.1 / 2
Dave Harwig / For the News Tribune Moose Lake-Willow River's Bo Moffett clings to the football while surrounded by teammates after his 62-yard touchdown run in the Section 7AA final Nov. 1 in Esko.2 / 2

When circumstances allow, Dave Louzek likes to end Moose Lake-Willow River football games by giving Bo Moffett a carry. Not wanting to pile on points if the score is already lopsided, the Rebels coach instructs Moffett to get the handoff and break for the sideline, where Louzek will be waiting with a hug.

That directive deviated in last week's Section 7AA championship game vs. Royalton. Louzek entered the offensive huddle with 16 seconds remaining and MLWR leading 16-6 with the ball on its own 38-yard line.

"I told him, 'Bo, you're getting the ball and you're going to score,' " Louzek said. "His face just lit up."

Louzek then warned Moffett, a senior with a genetic disorder known as Williams syndrome, against running out of bounds.

Don't worry, coach.

Moffett took the handoff from sophomore quarterback Mason Olson, at first clutching it tight with both hands as if the leather sphere was a newborn baby. He then curled around the right end and, picking up steam, turned upfield. His left arm pumping, his strides short but purposeful, Moffett, with red Rebel jerseys all around him, lumbered 62 yards.

On the sideline, Moffett's teammates hooted as they hurried right along with him, bouncing and throwing their arms up as No. 53 crossed the goal line. In the stands, fans roared their approval.

The first touchdown of Moffett's career, graciously green-lighted without hesitation by Royalton coach Jamie Morford, was a snapshot, leaving an indelible impression on those who watched him run. So simple, yet so powerful.

"I just kept going," is how Moffett described the play during his team's practice under the lights Tuesday evening in Willow River, where snow was falling, country music was playing over the public address speakers and the Rebels were preparing for Friday's 7 p.m. state tournament quarterfinal against Barnesville in Brainerd. "I'm really proud of it. I'm feeling really proud."

He wasn't the only one.

"I've watched a lot of Bo Moffett runs in my life, but that one's gotta be my favorite," MLWR senior lineman Aidan Szczyrbak said. "That means the world to him."

Moffett might be the happiest person on the planet. It's not uncommon for the 18-year-old, his face perpetually twisted into a smile, to greet a stranger with an outstretched right hand and a "Hey, how are you?" From Moffett, this is no token question. He genuinely wants to know.

At 8 months old, he was diagnosed with Williams, which, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, is "a developmental disorder that affects many parts of the body. This condition is characterized by mild to moderate intellectual disability or learning problems, unique personality characteristics, distinctive facial features, and heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) problems."

Nonetheless, Moffett's football fate was all but sealed in 2009, when members of MLWR's first Prep Bowl qualifier signed a ball and presented it to Moffett at a pep rally. He quickly morphed into the Rebels' No. 1 fan.

Then he became a Rebel himself.

"It's been many years since I was in those stands cheering on the boys," Moffett said.

Those were good days, but they pale in comparison to the excitement Moffett feels being out on the field. "Beautiful," he called it Tuesday, while also acknowledging his affinity for spaghetti dinners with teammates on Thursday nights and singing the school song with students after wins.

Moffett really likes that school song.

"He just loves the program," said his father, Bob Moffett. "He loves Coach Louzek and he loves all the players. To him, that's the biggest thing ever, to be part of that team."

For Louzek, in his 20th season at MLWR, this always has been the good stuff. Certainly, the winning — 12 state tournaments in the past 13 years, three Class AA runner-up finishes, 62 consecutive regular-season victories — is fun. Important, even. But it takes a backseat to bigger goals.

Like providing a meaningful football experience for Moffett, whose touchdown last week in Esko was followed by Danny Lilya, confined to a wheelchair most of his life after being born with a broken back, holding for the extra point.

"They're not just ceremonial people that stand on the sideline. They're just as important as everybody else on this team," Louzek said. "There are bigger things than high school football. High school sports are great, but really it's those life lessons of doing things like that for kids and taking some of the selfishness out of the game, and really being there for each other."

Louzek hopes to keep Moffett and his infectious personality around the Rebels after the latter graduates next May. Perhaps on the coaching staff, where he would join James Bohaty, MLWR's longtime "head assistant coach" who has Down syndrome.

Moffett's scoring romp came during a memorable week. Two days later, he shot his first deer, on opening day. Just another reason for Moffett to smile, not that he needed one. It's why, as Louzek said, "Everybody is just naturally drawn to Bo."

"He's always happy," Szczyrbak added.

Tuesday, before Moffett gripped his right hand onto a reporter's shoulder and told him, "You take care," he had a thought to add.

"One more thing," Moffett said, squinting his eyes against heavy snowflakes as he glanced across the field. "Let's go Rebels. Fight and win.

"Let's go Rebels. Fight and win."

He then sauntered away.

To join his team.