It was as if God gave a nod to plans for a Brandon teen to enjoy an extraordinary weekend at the University of Florida, the college she would have attended were it not for unfathomable tragedy.
In a chance meeting early Friday afternoon, star Gator quarterback Tim Tebow knelt beside her wheelchair, welcoming her to homecoming.
"I think somebody up above was looking down on us today," said Steve Stock, the Tampa native who arranged for a dream homecoming weekend for the girl.
Stock, president of Guy Harvey Inc., a major sponsor of Homecoming 2009, had read her story months back and felt compelled to do something special for the 19-year-old, left in a wheelchair, unable to walk, talk or see after a brutal rape and beating in 2008.
He and members of Florida Blue Key, the student organization that produces Gator Growl, an extravagant homecoming pep rally, decided to give her and her family a tour of Florida Field after the Gator parade.
Head football coach Urban Meyer just happened to be there.
Moments after Stock related the girl's story to him, the coach headed for the nearby Gator locker room shouting for his star quarterback.
Tebow, who said he was in the cold tub at the time, quickly regrouped and ran to meet her.
The Heisman Trophy winner spoke with her at length, signed Gator gear for her to take home, and posed for dozens of photographs.
"When (Stock) told the coach her story, it really touched his heart," Tebow said.
"It's also an amazing story how she and her family are working to get past this tragedy. It's a miracle she's here and alive," Tebow said, adding that he was happy to be part of the moment.
After the team was introduced to the crowd Friday night at The Swamp, Tebow was back by her side.
He spent about 30 minutes chatting to her and others who'd arranged the gathering, personalizing an autographed football helmet donated to her by Tampa memorabilia businessman Marty Bladen, signing autographs and posing for photos.
Bladen got to share in the moment, as did Florida Blue Key sponsorship director Andrew Winner, who had worked to make it all come together.
"It was such a blessing," Winner said of the locker room encounter with Tebow and Meyer.
"She's been so happy through all of this," the teen's mother said. "She's been just happy and full of emotion."
The teen and her family also got to watch the Gators top Arkansas 23-20 in a knuckle-biter Saturday.
The man authorities say attacked the teenager, Kendrick Morris, 17, is charged with four counts of sexual battery, robbery, kidnapping and other offenses in the attack and in an unrelated assault on a day care worker.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Dream Homecoming for Brandon Teen
Yvette C. Hammett, of the Tampa Tribune has the story.