When senior safety Ryan Hopt pulled in a late interception during South Salem (Ore.) High's 72-19 rout of McKay (Ore.) High, it could seem like one of the least significant turnovers of the season for his South Salem squad. In reality it may have been the most important, albeit for very unique reasons.
As reported by the Salem Statesman Journal, Hopt is a high school player who happens to be autistic. He has spent four years as part of the South Salem football program, rising to his role as a third string safety now in his final high school season. On Friday, Hopt got on the field and made the most of his playing time, pulling in an interception that brought instant delirium to his South Salem teammates and fans in the crowd.
"He practices with us every day," South Salem coach Scott DuFault told the Statesman Journal. "He plays scout team safety part of the time. They threw the ball, he caught it. He's an awesome kid. He's been in our program for four years. He's one of us.
"You saw the celebration. They went nuts. It's been that way since he was a freshman. He's in my son's class and so I've gotten to know him really well. He comes to all of the practices, all the workouts, and he's one of our guys. Every time he gets a chance to play our kids are excited, and so they went nuts tonight."
While Hopt has become just one of the guys on the South Salem football team, he spends most of his time during the school day in life skills classes, aimed at easing his transition into society once he graduates. He goes through team practices and workouts just like anyone else on the team, even if he spends most of his time as a member of the South Salem scout team, charged with trying to prepare the traditional starters for their assignments in the coming week's game.
Despite that limited role, Hopt always maintained that he would make a big play at some point during his senior year, even if his parents and friends reacted to that proclamation with a healthy dose of skepticism.
On Friday, Hopt delivered on his prognostication, leaving his parents almost speechless in the process.
"He's told me he was going to work really hard and try to do something like that," Jody Hopt, Ryan's mother, told the Statesman Journal. "I thought, okay. I figured it was him. It's so important for him to be like everybody else because he has autism. To me it was a shock. I was like, oh my gosh.
"I'll tell you, the South Salem football team has embraced him."
On Friday, that embracing emotion came in the form of literal hugs, celebrating a crowning moment in a fulfilling prep football career for a dedicated teen with autism.