BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - He never knew Joseph Thomas, but A.J. Erdely feels like he does now.
“What my letter told me is he was a loving kid, always had a smile on his face, you couldn’t tell what he was going thru," said UAB quarterback A.J. Erdely.
His name was Jackson Joseph Thomas, but his family called him Jack-Jack after watching the movie The Incredibles.
“The day he was born they came in and told us he’s got a terminal diagnosis, and the first thing they told us was take him home and love him because you’ll be lucky to have him for nine months," said Jackson’s mother, Tracey Thomas.
Jack-Jack was born with a terminal form of dwarfism. He passed away in 2013 at 5 years old.
“He was joyous. When he smiled, you could look at him and you could tell it went all the way deep, and when he laughed, you could hear it in his laugh, he was happy so we’re lucky he had 5½ really good happy years," Tracey said.
On Saturday, Erdely will wear the name Jack-Jack on the back of his jersey as the entire UAB football team honors patients from Children’s Harbor.
“It’s going to be emotional. I think I’m going to be extra nervous wanting to play good for him, and his family of course because I know his family will be at the game," said Erdely.
“It’ll be emotional, because that’s something he never got to do in his lifetime is walk out on a football field so to know that somebody else cares enough to carry him out on the football field, that means a lot," Tracey added.
Although Erdely never met Jack-Jack, it’s his toughness that stands out to the Blazer QB.
“If I could have an ounce of his toughness I will be all right. Like Coach Clark says we always play for the name on the front, but this week just like last year we are playing for the name on the back and it gives us motivation for sure," said Erdely.
You can learn so much from a name. For Erdely, Jack-Jack gives him a bigger reason to be a better player and man.
“I’m really religious and I know that he’s up there with our Lord and Savior and he’s definitely going to be watching the game. His presence will be felt with his family being there and I know he’ll definitely be watching the game," Erdely said.
This is the second year UAB football has honored patients from Children’s Harbor during a football game. The Blazers host North Texas Saturday at Legion Field at 6:30pm in a CUSA showdown.