A little under three weeks after the Bartraim Trail High football team's homecoming game this past fall, junior wide receiver Aubrey Thompson suffered a severe brain injury in a car accident. Five months later, the St. Johns, Fla., community gave the 17-year-old his own personal homecoming.
Teammates, friends and their parents lined the streets of his hometown as he made the long car drive back from Atlanta's Shepherd Center after six weeks of therapy at the facility, according to The Florida Times-Union. Donning No. 17 jerseys, they greeted Thompson with signs, cheers and tears.
"It was exciting to see all the people out there with signs and banners," Thompson's father Jim told the Jacksonville newspaper. "We were really thrilled. (Aubrey) didn't really know that was going to happen. He was taken by surprise, but he was very glad to see all of his friends there."
Thompson was a football, basketball and baseball standout at Bartram Trail. He had eight catches for 94 yards on the gridiron in his team's first five games this past fall, but his season ended on Oct. 16, when he was ejected from his friend's truck as they allegedly raced another vehicle at 80 miles per hour near the school. Thompson was air-lifted to a Jacksonville hospital, where he spent 100 days before moving to the facility in Atlanta. He can now reportedly walk with the aid of a walker and continues speech therapy.
"It brings tears to my eyes," Melissa Muley told the Times-Union. She attended the rally in Thompson's honor and like many got emotional at the sight of him waving from his parents' car window. "For him to be able to go back home after that, we're so glad to see him."
After a 1-5 start to the football season, Bartram Trail dedicated the rest of the season to Thompson after his injury. The Bears won seven consecutive games during an improbable run to the state semifinals following the accident. On Friday night, Thompson finally got to share in the celebration.
You can follow Thompson's complete recovery on the "PrayForAubrey" Facebook page.