CHARLOTTE (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) — For 12-year-old Branson Maners, nothing is better than the Friday night lights at Ardrey Kell.

He’s not on the Knights’ roster, but he’s a fan favorite.

“These guys have really embraced Branson,” his mother Lindsy Maners says. “It’s not just this one and done, let’s make this kid’s dream come true. It’s been this mutually beneficial relationship.”

Branson met the team at a football clinic two years ago as part of the “Future Knights” program.

That was just the beginning of this budding relationship.

“We consider him a part of our team,” head coach Greg Jacyhm says. “We met him last year when he went to an away game. He came down to the locker room with us. The guys were putting eye black on him and gave him a jersey.”

In April, Branson was an honorary captain and got to do the coin toss at a playoff game.

A sixth grader living with down syndrome, Branson’s now the most popular kid on campus — and a constant and loved presence at every home game.

“He’s awesome,” Jacyhm says. “He’s everything that’s right with high school football… He’s here at every home game and when you see him, he just puts a huge smile on your face. It’s been great. I think our kids are more excited to see him than he is to see them.”

But this is about more than just football.

“When Branson was born, the first thing I thought was ‘I’m gonna love him fiercely,’” Lindsy says. “The second thing I thought was, ‘What does this mean for his life in the community? His friends?’ It’s scary as a mom to think about that.

“Fast forward twelve years, and I look at this. He’s involved with a high school football team where they’re doing it truly as friends and peers. And it’s not ‘let’s do this for charity.’ These are true relationships, and I am hopeful and grateful.”

The Maners family has been involved with the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte for 11 years. Lindsy is fundraising for a Buddy Walk on October 30. If you’re interested in being a part of it, click this link for more information.

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