Makius Scott is a towering defensive linemen for the Gainesville High football team who never misses a chance to catch up with his friend Hector Carrillo.
As the bell rings for lunch, it’s a time for rejuvenation for many students.
It has a different significance for students in Heather McConnell’s special education classroom, Carrillo in particular.
The Red Elephants’ 6-foot-3, 303 pound rising senior defensive linemen with a growing list of Division I football opportunities, scurries through the red-laced hallway looking for Carrillo, who has Down syndrome and a heartwarming friendship with Scott.
McConnell facilitated the friendship between the stout football player with a warm personality and her special-needs freshman student, Carrillo, who needed a hand getting acclimated to the rigors of high school life.
Gainesville’s special education teacher in Room 119 had a feeling the friendship would take off.
And she was right.
“Makius is one of those guys that you can always count on to be a good guy first and foremost.”
Amdist all the attention from college recruiters and visits to some of the biggest football programs, Scott is always right there for Carrillo.
Sometimes, Carrillo can’t contain his excitement to see his pal Scott, who stands taller than almost all his classmates.
Once within arms reach, Carrillo will wrap himself around Scott for a warm embrace in their brief moments between classes.
“They’re students just like I’m a student,” Scott said. “They deserve friends, too. I want to be their friend and talk to them.”
Earlier last week, McConnell posted a picture on social media of Scott and Hector at school, their smiles gleaming toward one another. They had just come back from the Special Olympics held at Riverside Military Academy. The downtime was well received by Hector, who won gold in the 100-meter race.
Scott pulled out Hector’s Chromebook upon request and turned on the gold medalist’s favorite song “Sunflower” by rapper Post Malone from the film “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”.
“They were sharing headphones and just jamming,” McConnell said. “Both of their heads were just bobbing to the music. They were hanging out and being genuine friends.
“Makius didn’t know I took the picture. It’s definitely not like ‘Oh, look at me doing this great thing.’ It’s ‘Oh, I’m here with my friend,’ which is really sweet for me to see.”
Upon seeing it, Red Elephants football coach Heath Webb retweeted the message along with a note of his own: “Fans see him as a terrorizing DL wearing No. 99, but those who know him best know him as a great young man with a great heart.”
“We’ve worked hard to build a roster of great young men, so I want to highlight that any time I can,” Webb said. “Seeing Heather’s tweet didn’t surprise me in the slightest, but I want the world to see who Makius is outside of the uniform, which is a humble, hard-working, lead-by-example vocal leader that we can build a team around.”
New coaches in the process of developing a new program talk about creating a new culture.
The statements can seem hollow and robotic until a true breakthrough is noticed and success on the field follows.
Webb finished his first season as Gainesville’s head football coach in November. Still, he’s undergoing the transitional period when players and coaches are learning and adjusting to new coaching styles.
The same growing pains can be seen throughout college football and the NFL. For Webb, the path to positive growth starts with Scott – the purveyor of cozy bear hugs and larger-than-life smiles.
Webb’s new coaching staff and young team weathered many lows in the 2018 season that finished with a 2-9 mark. The young coach remembers when those tough losses would hit, he would lean on Scott for support.
“I could look at Makius, and he could uplift me,” Webb said.
After one particular tough road loss last season, the team boarded the bus: battered and bruised physically and emotionally.
Scott acknowledged him, “Are you good, coach?”
Prior to those words, Webb was not. But Scott’s heedful understanding and thoughtful action comforted the new coach.
“The fact that he said that to me and then gave me one of those good bear hugs kind of made me okay,” Webb said. “So I find it interesting that what Hector provides for him is what he provides for me.”
As Webb listened to the uplifting effect Carrillo had on Scott’s life, he couldn’t help but realize a domino effect.
“Makius is refreshing because he’s going to play in the SEC, ACC — he’s going to have plenty of (football) opportunities. The people that come through our doors are the who’s who of college football and it doesn’t change who he is. He never wavers from being the kid that I met with no offers — just a dream — who bought into doing everything that we asked him to do the way we asked him to do it.
“The dream’s going to become a reality, but it hasn’t changed him at all.”
“Makius will come back as a hero in Room 119,” McConnell said. “I know that my kids could care less if Makius was an athlete or a successful athlete. That’s just kind of a bonus that they get to see pictures or watch highlights. That doesn’t affect the friend that he is to us.”