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Rouse football manager provides team's heartbeat after his heart surgery

Sam Jones has been a part of the football team since his freshman year.

LEANDER, Texas — Before every coin flip, it's tradition that the Rouse High School Raiders walk underneath the bleachers, arms locked, helmets on, as they prepare for battle.

The thing is, one of the Raiders has already won the battle for his life.

Sam Jones is the manager for the football team, but he's not your typical one. Between weightroom workouts, morning practices and summer camps, he has been with the team every step of the way

"We were very careful," said Sam's mother, Lulu Jones. "We don't want him to be like this token kid with a disability sitting on the sidelines.

Her son was diagnosed with Down syndrome when he was born. But that wasn't the only obstacle. 

"Two pounds, two ounces," Lulu Jones said, describing her son's weight at birth. "His first diaper is as big as our cellphones are today."

As Sam Jones grew, so did the challenges. He was born with holes in his heart, but doctors told his family that those holes were just small enough for him to not need surgery. 

That theory skipped a beat in 2018. 

"We went to his annual appointment, and his doctor was just like, 'So, he needs surgery,'" Lulu Jones said.

Her son needed heart surgery, and he was ready – on one condition.

"He's like, 'I only want a tiny hole,' and the doctor said, 'I will make it as tiny as it can be,'" Lulu Jones said.

"I wanted it small," Sam Jones said when asked about his scar.

"When that doctor came in, he wouldn't talk," Lulu Jones said, recalling the moments after her son saw the size of his scar.

Despite his disappointment, Sam Jones didn't let it dim his light. In fact, he's become an inspiration to some of his teammates. 

"I see Sam and I see that my brother can grow up to be someone like Sam and be able to participate in things, just like he does." said senior lineman Travis Bartz.

Bartz's little brother also has Down syndrome, and seeing Sam be included has given him hope for his brother

"It's an ebb and flow with everything. And Down syndrome is the least of our worries," Lulu Jones said.

Her son will continue to be that heartbeat to the Rouse Raiders for years to come – including this Friday for the Raiders' first-round playoff game against Crockett at Bible Stadium. 

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