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Local 7th Grader Inspires Football Team

By Melissa Newton, CBS 11 News
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Teammates help Lake Highlands 7th grade football manager and student coach Brandon Landis, prepare to suit up.

Teammates help Lake Highlands 7th grade football manager and student coach Brandon Landis, prepare to suit up.

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LAKE HIGHLANDS (CBSDFW.COM) – A Lake Highlands 7th grader, diagnosed with a crippling disorder, is overcoming the disability to participate in the game he loves. And, in doing so, is having a big impact on his classmates.

Brandon Landis has been the manager of the Lake Highlands Junior High football team all season. “I fill up the water bottles, and I help the coaches with whatever they need,” he explained.

Playing the sport used to be easy for the 12-year-old, but a few years ago, at a football camp, he developed symptoms of what his family later learned was Neurodegeneration with Brain Iron Accumulation, or NBIA, a rare disorder that’s caused Brandon to lose control of his muscles.

Brandon’s father, Drew Landis, used to coach his son in soccer and said he was a natural athlete. “He was just one of those kids that could just do it.” Then one day everything changed. “Seeing it, like a switch, after that football camp, it was tough. It was really, really tough,” recalled Drew.

Brandon’s cognitive ability hasn’t changed, but he’s lost physical control of the right side of his body and has trouble speaking. “He’ll have peaks and he’ll have valleys,” his mother, Melissa Landis said, “he’s right handed, and it’s affected his right side so he doesn’t write at all.”

But Brandon hasn’t let his disability keep him out of athletics. Along with the team, he is at every football practice and game, proudly performing his duties as a manager and student coach.

At the team’s final game of the season, Wednesday, he’ll suit up and play, for the first time. “It’s going to be a very wonderful moment that we can look back on and cherish,” his father said. “Emotional,” his mother added, “it will remind us of when he used to play.”

Brandon’s teammates aren’t surprised that their classmate will be suiting up. “He’s really lived life like he doesn’t even have it [NBIA],” said Brandon’s lifelong friend, TJ Churchill. “He’s never really let anything stop him.”

“He’s just fun to be around,” said 7th grader Hunter Punjak, who admits he has learned a lot from Brandon, “just take chances and be yourself.”

Brandon’s mother says peer support for her son has made a big difference. “They don’t see the disorder he has, they see Brandon,” Melissa said, fighting back tears. “As a mom, that means the world.”

To the team, who hasn’t lost a game all season, Brandon is more than the manager; he’s a friend and their motivation to succeed. Football coach Darrell Jones understands Brandon’s drive. “He just wants to be one of the guys, and he is.”

On whether that determination has had an impact on other players, Coach Jones said, “When he shows up and he’s smiling and he’s happy it just gives them inspiration to practice hard.”

Now, Brandon waits for the big day. “He’s excited and scared to get out on the field Wednesday,” Coach Jones said. “In the end, he knows it’s just a game, though and as in life, you aren’t in it alone.”

Knowing he is not alone, Brandon’s goals are clear. “Play football and have fun,” Brandon said, “because of God and my friends and family, they help me out with whatever I need.”

There is no cure for Brandon’s disorder. Click here to learn more about Neurodegeneration with Brain Iron Accumulation and follow along with Brandon on his journey.

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