TAMPA, Fla. — Whenever it comes, whoever creates it, a child’s smile can brighten even the darkest days.
“That’s all I want is to see him smile,” Bruce Hills, Jr. said. “That’s it, see my kid smile.”
That smile stretches ear-to-ear when his son, Bruce Hills III, makes a game-breaking play.
“I was having a great season,” Bruce said. “I was getting a lot of picks and touchdowns and blocking for my teammates.”
The 12-year-old ballhawk has two picks sixes and a punt return for a touchdown in his first five games.
“He’s definitely a die-hard player," his mother, Sanrita Monts, said. “He loves football. He hates missing practice, getting in trouble to not be able to play.”
But on October 9, on this way to his homecoming game, Bruce was blindsided with what he thought was a headache.
“When I got in the car my head started hurting,” Bruce said.
“He’s not a crier either. He doesn’t cry too much,” his mother added. “To see him crying over a headache. No, something is not right.”
“Let’s take him to the hospital,” Hill, Jr. said.
Doctors ran numerous tests over several days to find out what was wrong.
Meanwhile, Bruce’s Colts kept winning.
“It was tough, but I knew the team was playing for me,” Bruce said. “They would never give up because they would always pray for me.”
“The nurses at Saint Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, they always tried to uplift him, talk to him about the games, watch it on the phone,” Monts said. “It was a way to pass time seeing them winning.”
What the doctors finally found was a cyst on his brain — bacteria that needed to be scraped off.
“They explained it could have kept growing, or bust and then spread that would’ve been bad. It was life-threatening,” Monts said.
“It could have gotten bigger and popped and I could have died,” Bruce added.
After a month in the hospital and two weeks of at-home recovery, Bruce was released just in time to join his teammates in Orlando for the Pop Warner Super Bowl national championship.
Bruce was the honorary captain as the Colts won 39-6, dedicating the win to their teammate.
“I’ve never had a group come together like this,” head coach Chuck McLeod said. “They really rallied around him, they love him, he’s such a great kid.”
“The trophy, they won it for me,” Bruce said.
Bruce is expected to make a full recovery and join his team on the field next season to defend their title.