Carter Hucks, a third-grader from Charleston, South Carolina, is getting a chance to live out a dream this week in Coral Gables.
He’s hanging with the Hurricanes.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation reached out to University of Miami officials two weeks ago to bring Hucks and his parents to South Florida so he could spend a few days with their favorite football team.
Diagnosed with Fanconi anemia — a rare genetic blood disorder — back in May, the eight-year old boy is scheduled to have a bone marrow transplant on Oct.21. But first, he’ll get to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Wednesday was his first day on campus. When the Hurricanes (3-3) host Cincinnati (2-2) on Saturday at noon at Sun Life Stadium, Hucks will serve as the team’s honorary captain and be on the field for the coin flip.
“Just a great day and hopefully a great three days coming up for he and his family,” said UM coach Al Golden, who entertained Hucks one-on-one in his office before practice for about 15 minutes. “We’re excited to welcome him. He went to meetings. He got taped up, put pads on. We’re excited for Carter and he’s having a great day right now.
“He’s entering a stage or a battle in his life where he needs this. He needs happy moments. He needs people supporting him and everything. I hope our kids get as much out of it as they are giving to him, in terms of appreciation and understanding where we are, keep perspective. I’m happy that he’s with us this week for his sake. But I also think our guys are getting a lot from it as well.”
UM made it a special first day for Hucks and his parents Derrick and Jessie.
Sporting the No. 8 jersey of his favorite player Duke Johnson (but with his own last name stitched across the back of it), Carter ran out from underneath a giant-sized inflatable helmet and through Miami’s traditional smoke onto Greentree Practice Field on Wednesday morning flanked by UM players. All the while, cheerleaders, the school band and team mascot Sebastian the Ibis cheered on Hucks.
Hucks then stretched with the team, played catch with receiver Phillip Dorsett, caught passes from backup quarterback Jake Heaps, and even got to tackle cornerback Tracy Howard. Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Sunny Odogwu (6-8, 324) ended practice by carrying Hucks off the field on his shoulders.
Derrick Hucks grew up a Hurricanes fan in the 1990s and early 2000s and called it a thrill just to be out on the same practice field where Sean Taylor, Willis McGahee and many other greats practiced.
His son has played football growing up, but had to sit out this last season when he was diagnosed with the genetic disease, which affects one in 350,000 people. It’s a battle near and dear to the heart of Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, whose 9-year-old son Ethan has been fighting it since he was five.
Derrick, accompanied by his wife, told Miami TV station CBS-4 the experience at UM has been great for the entire family.
“Because of things with his health, I think being out here, seeing the guys running around, moving around it reminds him of the things he used to do,” Derrick Hucks said. “I think that’s a big spirit booster for [Carter]. I think it reminds him after this procedure is done he’ll be able to get back to being who he is.
“I was making a joke that hopefully by the time this whole procedure is over the next time he’s in Coach Golden’s office he’s here to commit to playing his next four, five years at the University of Miami. This is a stepping stone in that direction with the whole procedure he’s going to go through. I would love to see him out here. It’s good to see him out here running around and what he could possibly be.”
The Hurricanes have entertained other children with special needs in the past, but Golden said this is the first time UM has hosted a child from the Make-A-Wish foundation.
“Our players do a great job with that,” Golden said. “Duke and Denzel [Perryman] have been with him most of the morning. Duke took him to meetings. We got him fitted for equipment. It’s been pretty cool.
“Again, they’re Canes fans from South Carolina and this is what the young man wanted to do. So I’m glad we can do it. He’s not going to shake us yet. We got two more days and then game day. He’ll be a Hurricane by the end of the week.”