"Mom, we CAN'T walk over there; we're gonna get in trouble!"
That's what 11-year-old Zachary Nettles whispered to his mother, Misty, outside of the Houston Methodist Training Center on Tuesday afternoon. The Texans were beginning their eighth day of OTA's, and Zachary was being led into the facility by his "rule-breaking" mom.
Unbeknownst to Zachary, Misty wasn't breaking any rules at all. Texans head coach Bill O'Brien had invited the Nettles out to practice so that the "biggest Texans fan in the world" could hang out with his idols. You know, just a casual Tuesday.
Overwhelmed and slightly in shock, Zachary watched intently from the sidelines as J.J. Watt ran defensive drills and Case Keenum threw deep passes to DeAndre Hopkins. O'Brien, in true head coach fashion, told the young fan to "grab a Gatorade."
Texans head coach Bill O'Brien invited young fan Zachary to experience the opportunity of a lifetime.
The whole scenario was surreal for Zachary, whose tenacious mentality on the football field earned him the nickname "Tank." Recently, this warrior mindset has come in handy off the gridiron, as well.
In May, Zachary began treatment for a rare auto immune eye disease that is causing him to go blind. His weekly visits to the hospital often induce feelings of fatigue and sickness, but there was certainly no sign of illness on that sunny afternoon.
As practice was wrapping up, O'Brien called Zachary over to the huddle and introduced him to the entire squad. The youngster broke the huddle and interacted with many of his favorite players, including Watt, Hopkins, Keenum, Jadeveon Clowney, Arian Foster, Chris Myers and more.
Zachary walked away with Hopkins' gloves, Watt's shoes, a signed No. 99 jersey, Keenum's QB towel and a game ball from O'Brien. But perhaps the most valuable thing the Nettles took back with them were the memories Zachary can reflect back on during his gloomier days at the hospital.
On his way out, Zachary made one last observation.
"I'm sorry, mom, but this is better than what you got me for my birthday."