A field. A end zone. A perfect pass.
It's a perfect escape for 11-year-old Gage Kirby.
"As a five-year-old he started playing football at Farragut [Middle School] and met fantastic people," Joe Kirby, his grandfather and guardian, said. "It is our second family. it's a fabulous group of people we get to be with."
Farragut Middle coach Dustin Bolen describes Gage as "an amazing kid."
"Gage is a team leader," Bolen said. "He leads our offense on any play he's out there on."
Gage earned the respect of Farragut's two quarterbacks, senior Jake Evans and junior Gavin Wilkinson. They all met in 2017 through quarterbacks coach Reese Browning.
"He's always smiling, biggest smile on his face 24/7," Wilkinson said.
This year he started getting long, migraine headaches at school. He started wearing glasses, but nothing helped. Gage found out he had a tumor the size of an orange in his brain. It was cancerous.
"It was a long process before we went to the emergency room," Gage said. "I just did what the doctors told me."
Wilkinson and Evans were heartbroken.
"It was pretty emotional," Evans said. "Gavin and i both got really emotional seeing him there in the hospital bed with the scars on his head and hearing the doctors talking."
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This is what makes football so great, it brings people together. Without football Jake and Gavin probably wouldn’t have ever met Gage. . . I can’t say enough about these two young men. Once I told them about what Gage was going through they immediately wanted to do something for him. They signed a football for him and wrote “Gage 18” on their wristbands they played in on Friday night. Then on Sunday, on their day off, they went down to Children’s Hospital to bring Gage some gifts and to just sit and talk with him for awhile. All three of these guys are QBG QBs but MUCH more importantly they’ve created a bound through all the hard work they’ve put in together that will last a lifetime. . . It makes me very proud to coach such great young men. . . #proudcoach #footballbringsustogether #footballfamily #family #brotherhood #knoxrocks #prayforgage
But inspiration came through the struggle. Gavin and Jake started writing "Gage 18" on their wrists to tell their young friend's story. Evans writes it on his cleats. And the Farragut QBs watched him play his middle school games through October, when doctors discovered a second, smaller tumor.
Love poured in from beyond the Farragut community. Tennessee football players Jarrett Guarantano, Jauan Jennings, Jordan Allen, and Todd Kelly Jr. have paid Gage visits. Gage and Jennings meet at each Vols home game; Guarantano often DMs Gage on Instagram. All let him know he can beat his cancer.
Two brain surgeries in less than a month and Gage is already trying to get back on the football field with his teammates... A walking testimony that God gives His hardest battles to His strongest soldiers! You have all of my support and are an inspiration to all! #GageStrong pic.twitter.com/xWYtu1B4x1— Todd Kelly Jr. (TK) (@ToddKellyJr) October 30, 2018
"They're not as tall as I thought they would be," Gage said with a smile. "They're nice."
On the last play of what would be his final game this year... Gage threw a game-ending touchdown pass as time expired. His team beat Oak Ridge's middle school team, 14-0, in the late October playoff game.
Gage will head to St. Jude's Hospital in Memphis Monday to start proton therapy. He'll be staying there until January, only coming back to play basketball and flag football on weekends.
"When you find out it may be your last game, you've got to play," Joe Kirby said.
It might or might not be the last play of his football career. You couldn't have scripted the ending better.
"You have to tough through it," Gage says. "Stay strong."