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Friday Night Heroes: Kirtland football player overcomes disabilities to inspire teammates, family

Nate Fellinger started plowing through expectations by playing several different sports, and he's become incredibly popular around town.

KIRTLAND, Ohio — There's a football player in Kirtland making big strides both on and off the field.

He struggles with a disability, but is teaching so many lessons.

You can usually find 17-year-old Nate Fellinger on the football field on Saturday mornings, behind a crowd filled with Hornet pride. He's always loved the game.

"Running, tackling, getting other people, getting in the game, the usual. That’s what I like about football," Nate said.

But getting to the field hasn't been an easy road for Nate. He was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, and more than two months early. His future was anything but certain.

"We really didn’t know if he was going to come home from the hospital at all," Nate's mom, Kathy Fellinger said. "The nurses warned us not to expect too much for him."

They were wrong: The Fellingers adopted him anyway, and Nate started plowing through expectations by playing several different sports. He's become incredibly popular around town.

"Everybody knows Nathan," Nate's dad Steven Fellinger said. "They cheer him on, they make him feel wanted, they make him feel as part of the team."

A team, Nate's coach says, wouldn't be the same without him.

"It’s not just that he’s on the team, but he’s contributing, he’s working hard, he’s making us better. I just want him to give his best every day," Hornets Junior Varsity Head Coach Jeff Eckles said. "They know he loves the game. He’s got a passion for the game, and it makes them just want to work that much harder."

His parents are forever touched by his ability to uplift his teammates and always bring positive vibes to practice.

"He’s one that never looks at the negative side of anything," Kathy said.

"I love the fact that he’s able to touch people," Steven added. "He’s able to be inspirational to people, and that he’s able to have that kind of effect on somebody," Steven said.  

For his brother Alex, the role reversal is truly humbling.

"When we were younger, he would always ask to put on my pads on after a game," Alex told us. "Now, just seeing him go out there, it’s kind of unbelievable."

Backed by his family, with an entire community behind him, there are no limits—no obstacles standing in the way of this young, Friday night hero.

"He’s proud of himself," Kathy said. "As long as he’s proud of himself, and he gets those wins, then what greater accomplishment is there?"