SONORA - A football legend who doesn't play on the team, it's a tradition in Sonora that began three years ago with Mace Joy and he knows it.
"I think I started something," Mace said.
"Our first game out they let me know, 'well Mace Joy is going to lead the team out on the field.' And I said, 'okay that's great, who's Mace?'" Coach Phillips Crayton, who's going on his second year at Sonora, said.
Now there's few who wouldn't be able to recognize the 18-year-old from his ever-green smile, to the way he can spread it to others.
"He's just real happy all the time, just a joy to be around," Chance Campbell, a fellow senior and Broncos running back, said.
Some teammates have been diaper buddies with Mace, while others like Ricky Martinez who plays safety had only just met him.
"He's the first person that ever came up to me and started talking to me. He's like, "Hi new guy, I'm Mace Joy," Martinez said.
Regardless of the history and how well they know him, all of them know there's one thing that is 100 percent guaranteed: the question, "Are you gonna win?"
"Every first day of school he says, "Are you ready for football?" And I always say, "Yes, yes Mace we're ready." He says, "Are yall gonna go win state and every year?" We say, "Yes Mace we are." He says, "Im'ma walk y'all out every week and we say okay good," Will Dutton, who plays Corner and Receiver, said.
Mace calls walking the players out his responsibility, one he was given when he was asked to lead the playoff team out at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Now three years later, Mace is a pro at getting his team fired up under that tunnel.
"We just really depend on him to get us going, start us off and without him it would just be really hard," Campbell said.
According to Dutton, sometimes he's more pumped than the football players are. Though Mace might not be sure exactly when to start running (sometimes he gets so excited he'll want to take off too early) he is certain that no one can do his job better.
And they probably can't, because Mace is just different; he was born with a disability that stunted his muscle development and caused weight issues among other things.
Mace has Prader Willi Syndrome. One of the common behavioral characteristics of the rare disorder is that the person will pick something that becomes an obsession. For Mace, it's football.
But it would be too unsafe for Mace to play the sport, though sometimes he tends to forget- like during the 50 meter dash in the Special Olympics in his sophomore year.
"I was running, I was running to get to first place, you know, and there was another kid in front of me and he was running and I went over there, I tried to tackle him," Mace said.
That's when the packed crowd all stood in unison and yelled, "No Mace!"
Mace didn't end up tackling the runner. He did apologize though, using an imaginative excuse only his brain could surmise. "I said I'm sorry, I thought I was playing football," he said.
But Mace's story doesn't just involve joy from football. Before starting public school at Sonora, he tried out a year in a different school where he was bullied.
"They wet my pants and called me fat," Mace remembered. That was in addition to ruining his school projects, teasing him and even threatening him. Sometimes they would do it in front of his mom too.
"I actually turned around and I asked this student, "Why are you talking to him like that, you're frightening him." And she says, "I think it's funny," Mace's mom, Sherry Smyth, said.
Smyth says Mace would often come home in tears and she had to bear watching him sink and grow uneasy and gain weight from the depression.
Most of all, she said it was difficult to see him come home every day discouraged from going to school and from the threats, asking her, "Well what does that mean? Should I really be afraid?"
So Mace said he had enough of the bullying and he wanted to move. And by the end of his eighth grade year, they were back home to Sonora.
"It's almost as if the opposite of bullying is what's going on here," Coach Crayton said. "People understand his challenges from day to day and we appreciate his enthusiasm and his spunk."
"For sure if someone tried to do anything, I'd step up and I'm sure everyone else would too," Rollert said, as the others voiced similar testaments.
Smyth just wants to say thanks to the entire community that has helped make it Mace world, where he lives and breathes his dreams and has the opportunity to live vicariously through his teammates- his brothers.
"As a mother, it means so much. They've achieved so much more than adults. They have compassion and empathy and should hold their heads up," Smyth said.
So besides someone who can sweet-talk teachers and snag any date, who is Mace Joy?
"Somebody to play for, keep him happy every week," Dutton said.
"He's the Bronco spirit of the school, pretty much," Martinez said.
"We think of him almost as another coach almost," Campbell said.
And some might call him the mascot.
"But in his eyes he's not so much a mascot as he is player on the team. He's just not suited out just yet. He does have a number ten jersey on each week so he's ready to play at a moment's notice. He's our twelfth man," Coach Crayton said.
But Mace is graduating this year and as he steps down from his appointment and possibly goes to college, he's leaving behind a message for the Broncos.