BOONE — Appalachian State’s men’s soccer coach Jason O’Keefe knows something about how special signing a national letter of intent can be for a student-athlete.
When O’Keefe had the chance to host a letter signing for 12-year-old Jacob Brown, who was born with cystic fibrosis, he gladly agreed.
So, just like his older soccer peers recruited from all over North Carolina and beyond, Brown, a Todd resident and Ashe County Middle School student, signed his letter in front O’Keefe, his parents and his new Appalachian State teammates on the fifthfloor of the Mark E. Ricks Athletics Complex.
Brown, who has suffered from cystic fibrosis since birth, was able to connect with the App State men’s soccer team through a national nonprofit called Team IMPACT, which is based in Massachusetts and connects children with chronic illnesses to college athletic teams.
A clinic that treats Brown suggested they look into Team IMPACT as a way to brighten Brown’s life in a unique way.
O’Keefe had already heard about Team IMPACT and was all in favor of setting up the signing.
“When I was at St. Louis University I participated in it as well and it’s one of the most impactful things I have done in my 19 years in college athletics,” O’Keefe said. “To see how it impacted our guys, who are 18-22, who sometimes don’t recognize or go out of their way for anything outside of a three-feet radius in their life, it was unbelievable.”
Cystic fibrosis is a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time. Brown’s mother, Amari Earley, said he requires daily maintenance to fight the disease, which requires check-ups at hospitals.
Despite that, Brown has participated in athletics, including soccer and in wrestling.
O’Keefe said Brown is welcome to participate in App State practices and in other team activities.
“He spends about two or three hours a day after school doing treatment, so this gives him something to look forward to,” Earley said. “When things get boring or get old, he can look forward to something outside of the treatments.”
Brown and O’Keefe were in good spirits as the signing ceremony got underway.
“It’s a big day in a young man’s life to pursue a dream and see them come true and that’s what Jacob is doing every day,” O’Keefe said before Brown signed. “I had a chance to meet him a couple of weeks ago, him and his father, and I think we all felt wow. We’re getting a special man to join our program.”
With the entire App State soccer team watching, Brown first signed his letter. He was then given an App State gold jersey and then another jersey that was signed by the team. He was also presented a soccer ball and a team scarf.
Brown, who plays midfield, then fielded questions from the media. He was asked what he does best on the field.
“Play defense,” Brown said.
O’Keefe also said Brown met with the core values of the program.
“He’s got passion,” O’Keefe said. “He’s extremely bright and he’s talented. He’s got a number of different hobbies and obviously soccer is one of them. Those things, along with his courage, he deals with things that some of us don’t deal with and he does it with a smile on his face.”