The morning started with a dense fog that delayed the day’s festivities. It ended with an immense brightness beaming from the face of seven-year-old Max Von Holt.
Von Holt put pen to paper in front of the entire LIU football team — as well as members of the spirit teams and other spectators — officially a becoming a member of the LIU family during a “Draft Day” media conference on Sunday morning after the team’s final spring practice.
The Huntington native is battling a brain tumor, and through Team Impact, he and his twin brother, Alex, were able to join the team as it embarks on its first season of Division I football.
“It’s been overwhelming,” said their mother, Ingrid. “We met the team on Friday. They were at a practice and seeing the guys approaching you cheering on Max and Alex, it was very emotional.”
Team Impact is a national nonprofit that connects children facing serious or chronic illnesses with college athletics teams, and although Max and Alex will occupy themselves by attending home games, practices and other events, LIU coach Bryan Collins said he and his players can learn just as much from the pairing.
“[The Von Holt family] is very happy and excited about today, but I believe the relationship we’ll have with Max and Alex will be that much more special for our players,” Collins said. “It’s just great to be able to have a young child impact your life and inspire you.”
Max and Alex took to the field after the ceremony to play catch with several LIU players, including wide receiver Derick Eugene and defensive lineman Joe Amalfitano. Max’s mother said he has “no restrictions as far as his condition,” and he proved that by running, diving, sliding and jumping around the field.
Amalfitano was thrilled to take part.
“We’re out there competing all day — offense versus defense — but when it comes down to this, we’re all a family at the end of the day,” he said. “Now he’s part of the family.”
The twins first got into football from playing on their Xbox. Now, they can impressively rattle off names, teams and stats, said their father, Walter.
Each was given a jersey to wear. Alex chose No. 99 because “in the video game, it’s the highest overall [rating] you can go to.” Max chose No. 20 in honor of Barry Sanders, who is his brother’s favorite player.
“Just recently, they’ve been watching the Super Bowls with us,” their mother said. “Just this last one, they really took an interest.”
Now, they’ll get the opportunity to be around the game more often. Max, smiling widely, said: “We love football.”