BRICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A high school student with autism becomes a hero on the football field. Sounds like a good movie doesn’t it? Well, it’s a true story.
The score was tied with just 21 seconds left on the clock Friday night. Out trotted Brick High School’s Anthony Starego, an 18-year-old kicker who’s used to facing adversity.
Starego was orphaned at the age of 3 and then grew up with a long list of developmental issues. So when he jogged out on the field to attempt a game-winning field goal against favored Toms River North, one couldn’t blame him if he didn’t feel overwhelmed by the moment.
What happened next was something usually reserved for Hollywood. He split the uprights and the place went crazy. But there was nothing ordinary about that kick. It was a lifetime in the making, CBS 2’s Otis Livingston reported Tuesday.
“As soon as the officials went like this, I was a blubbering idiot,” father Ray Starego said, demonstrating the hand movement for a successful field goal.
“I was just crying, but I wasn’t going to stop watching him because he was just jumping for joy. It really was unbelievable,” added Reylene Starego, Anthony’s mother.
If being the hero Friday night put Starego at the top of the mountain, his entire life has been an uphill battle getting there.
“When he came to us, he had been through 11 foster homes and he had had some difficulties. He had about six words to his vocabulary,” Reylene Starego said.
“He had kidney reflux; he had an asthmatic condition. Basically, it was a special needs adoption that we had gone through,” Ray Starego added.
Symptoms of autism include children performing repeated body movements. They often experience unusual distress when routines are changed, but those are the same traits that make Anthony a successful kicker.
“Fifty times a day, that’s all he does. Just three steps back, one over and he hits the ball. That’s what he knows and that’s what he did,” coach Kurt Weiboldt said.
Anthony Starego agreed. As far as he’s concerned, practice makes perfect.
“I do the same thing over and over again. It helps me a lot, and I’m having the best day of my life,” he said.
Children with autism also have trouble with social interactions, so making friends isn’t easy, but the football field is different. It’s a safe haven.
“[Anthony is] just the man. He’s always happy, always puts a smile on your face,” Brick High quarterback Brendan Darcy said.
Anthony said he doesn’t think of himself as being different than his teammates. He said he just has a job to do.
“I feel like I’m happy and calm and enjoying myself when I kick. [It’s] the time of my life,” he said.
The Green Dragons’ only two wins of the season have come since Anthony became the kicker. He’s perfect on kicks, including that game winner. Their next game is this Friday against Lacey High School.
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