The ACC Digital Network (ACCDN) has highlighted the most exciting, touching and incredible moments of the past 12 months from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Surprise Military Family Reunion
On Veterans Day, Florida State got in on the surprise homecoming action. U.S. Army soldier Ryan Otto’s wife, Jennifer, and their four children were on the field to be honored by the 80,000 people inside of Doak Campbell Stadium. While his family stood in the end zone, watching a video message that made it seem as if Ryan was airborne, Ryan came sprinting across the field behind them. The roars from the crowd gave away the surprise before he could get inside the red zone, but it’s safe to say this was one time Ryan was more than happy to have his cover blown.
Beautiful Sportsmanship At The Finish Line
Boston College sophomore cross country runner Madeline Adams came into the ACC Championship race feeling confident and at the top of her game. She was running what she calls “the race of her life” as she made the final push towards the finish line. Then her legs gave out and Adams fell to the ground – physically unable to get up.
In an unbelievable display of sportsmanship, rival runners – Clemson’s Evie Tate and Louisville’s Rachel Pease – sacrificed their own times to stop, pick Adams up and carry her to the finish line. The whole thing was captured on video and made the rounds to dozens of news stations, websites and talk shows.
Adams admits to initially being a little worried about all of the attention, but loves the powerful message the video sends and calls Evie and Rachel “angels.” Even though she missed out on what could have been one of the best times of her career, she’s far more happy with all the good that has come out of the video and the reminder to the millions that have seen it to offer help when you know someone needs it.
How About Another Military Family Reunion?
At a September football game against South Carolina State, Clemson helped Navy ENS William Sears pull off a perfectly executed surprise military homecoming. As his wife and son participated in what they believed to be a halftime exhibition, Navy ENS Williams Sears hid inside of a vending machine and was wheeled out onto the field. The exhibition ended, and his family approached the machine for a postgame drink – but when they made their selection and pushed the magic button, they got something much sweeter than a bottle of soda.
Star Athletes Meet After They Both Beat Cancer
Clemson pitcher Clate Schmidt was a right-hander with MLB talent and dreams to match. But his road to the big leagues hit a speed bump when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in May 2015. About a month later, Clate was drafted by the Boston Red Sox on June 10, 2015 – the same day he started his first chemotherapy treatment. Clate refused to let his cancer change who he was as a person and an athlete, fighting the disease with the support of the Clemson and college baseball family. In July 2015, Clate was declared cancer free and was able to return to the mound for the Tigers his senior year. He was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 2016 and signed with the team in June.
Fast forward to December 2015, when Clate received word that Pitt’s star running back James Conner had also been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Clate reached out and connected with James on Twitter, offering whatever support and advice he could give to help James beat the same disease he had just four months ago. That Twitter connection turned into a brother-like relationship that included a year full of text messages, phone calls and video chats.
When the Panthers traveled to Death Valley to take on the Tigers in November, the two inspirational athletes, and now life-long friends, were finally able to meet in person.
The Best Holiday Gift
Very rarely do we get to see a surprise military homecoming that involves one of the players involved in the actual game. But that was the case Monday night, when Notre Dame helped junior point guard Matt Farrell’s brother Bo pull off one of the coolest surprises to date.
After a 77-62 win over Colgate, Matt was caught off guard when a video message from Bo appeared on the video board. The video showed Bo, who had been deployed in Afghanistan with the Army, in military clothing in front of an American flag. The production of the video was so spot on, it was even a little staticky at the beginning to really lead Matt to believe Bo was sending him the message from overseas.
After Bo spoke about how excited he was to see Matt and his family soon, the camera zoomed out and it became obvious that Bo was actually in the Irish locker room. Next thing you know, Bo comes running out of the Notre Dame tunnel and the two brothers embrace in a tear-filled hug as the crowd went wild.
Asked by reporters after the game if this was the best Christmas present he had ever received, Matt was eager to confirm their suspicions.
“Oh yeah, by far. By far. We don’t ask for much for Christmas, anyway. So this is the best Christmas present I’ve ever had.”
The Lunch Photo That Went Viral
It all started with a visit from Florida State’s top wide receiver, Travis Rudolph, and some of his Seminole teammates to local Montford Middle School in Tallahassee. After grabbing a couple slices of pizza from the lunch line, Travis walked through the cafeteria looking for somewhere to sit. He noticed sixth grader Bo Paske eating alone and asked Bo if he could join.
“Sure, why not?” Bo responded, and what Travis describes as “great conversation” followed. A picture of the two eating, posted by Bo’s mother Leah, sent the story viral. Not only had Travis made Bo’s day and gained a new biggest fan, the two became great friends. Travis paid Bo another surprise visit about a week later, with a personalized “Paske” No. 15 jersey and tickets to the Noles’ game against Ole Miss in Orlando.
Travis points to older players talking to him when he was young as an extremely impactful part of his life, and simply wanted to try and pay that experience forward.
Brothers In Arms
The big brother/little brother relationship is something that often can’t be justified through words alone. Nothing we saw this year showed that more than when Syracuse sophomore quarterback Eric Dungey was surprised by his older brother, Matt, before Cuse’s season opener against Colgate.
Matt, an enlisted infantryman stationed in Vilseck, Germany, hadn’t seen his brother in almost two years. So six months before the Orange opened the 2016 season, Matt requested time off to fly home, surprise Eric and see him play. He was granted a leave, and managed to keep the plan a secret for the entire six months.
The original plan was for Matt to surprise Eric on the field during warm ups, but the team busses arrived to the Carrier Dome gates early. Trained to handle the unexpected, Matt rolled with it and Eric was stunned when he got off the bus to find the familiar face. With his entire family in the stands for the first time since arriving at Syracuse, Eric threw for 355 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Orange to a 33-7 win.
Honoring An ALS Hero
Pete Frates played outfield for the Boston College baseball team from 2004-07, compiling more than 100 starts and earning captain honors his senior year. But Frates has become a BC and national hero for his unbelievable work off the baseball diamond.
Pete was diagnosed with ALS in 2012 at the age of 27, and from that moment forward he dedicated his life to helping find a cure and giving back to the Eagles’ baseball program. In the summer of 2014, Pete and his family started the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which gained so much popularity it has raised over $200 million dollars for ALS research.
Before a home game against Wake Forest on May 7, Boston College made sure that a man who has left his mark on millions of people across the world also left his mark on the Eagles’ program. The Eagles officially retired Frates’ No. 3 jersey with his last name and number on the right field wall – a reminder to every player that steps on that field or fan that enters the stadium, to never let life’s obstacles get in the way of you achieving your dreams and impacting the lives of others.
All-American’s Farewell Leaves Coach In Tears
Tar Heel faithful knew it would happen eventually – the day they would say goodbye to Marcus Paige. His dazzling play on the court from the time he was a freshman quickly made Paige a fan-favorite. But it was his attitude and leadership through a time when UNC athletics needed it most that cemented him as one of the most beloved Tar Heels of all-time.
The persistently positive, polite and personable Paige was a constant bright spot for a program with some dark clouds looming overhead. He gave everything he had to the university for four years, earning All-American honors on the court and in the classroom. Paige undoubtedly made every student’s time at UNC that much more special, and when he said goodbye to the 21,750 fans inside the Dean Dome on senior night, you’d have been hard pressed to find a dry eye in the crowd.
Don’t Upset This Little Superfan
The term superfan is one that should be reserved for a rare breed – not necessarily the fan simply that wears the most gear, cheers the loudest during the game or proclaims their passion until the sun comes up. It’s what you do behind closed doors, when no one’s watching (or so you think) that truly determines if you have what it takes to obtain superfan status.
Enter a young Yellow Jackets fan named Malcolm, who wasn’t too happy when the pizza his mom ordered came in a box with a Georgia Bulldogs logo on it. Despite his hunger, Malcolm repeatedly refused to eat anything associated with the Jackets’ biggest rivals – a level of dedication and commitment that can be appreciated by fans of any age.
The video made its way to the Georgia Tech athletic department, and they appreciated Malcolm’s unwavering fandom so much, they invited him to have a Yellow Jackets pizza party on campus. Malcolm toured the Tech locker room with Buzz, met players and coaches, and of course – enjoyed some well-deserved Yellow Jacket pizza. Congratulations, Malcolm – you are officially a superfan!