We are all very familiar with the quote, “Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.”
But a 15-year old boy acting in the blink of an eye to save the lives of his friends is perhaps one of the most unexpected, outstanding stories of heroism to date.
Zaevion Dobson’s story was one that shook the entire nation when he sacrificed his life while diving to cover his friends amid open fire in Knoxville on Dec. 17, 2015.
It is a story entailed with so much bravery that it is difficult to even ingest the fact that he was merely 15 years old. On July 13, Dobson was the youngest individual to be awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award during the ESPY’s Awards show in Los Angeles, California.
To many people across the country, the No. 24 — Dobson’s football number at Fulton High School in Knoxville — has since become a symbol of the courage and bravery honoring Dobson’s life.
Tennessee safety and Knoxville native Todd Kelly Jr. announced on the first day of training camp that he, too, is now representing that number in order to carry on the legacy that the nation’s young hero left behind.
“He represented Knoxville so well and loved the game so much,” the junior safety said. “It was his dream to play Division I football and that was cut short. So I feel like with me wearing the No. 24, everyone knows what it stands for. When they see that 24, they know that his legacy continues to live on.”
Yet beyond being from the same city, Kelly has personally known the Dobsons since his little league football days at John Tarleton Park in Knoxville, where he played on the same team as Zae’s brother, Zack Dobson. He is now representing a young man who once admired him as an athlete.
“Zaevion looked up to me and I tried to talk to him anytime I could,” Kelly said.
Kelly was at teammate Brian Randolph’s apartment along with Evan Berry when they first learned the tragic news. Eric Berry, who also knew the Dobsons, called his younger brother Evan to inform him of what happened.
“Eric knew them really well,” Kelly said, “so I told him how I knew them really well too and anything I could do to help, I would do. I talked to Zack (Dobson) that same night and he was still really shocked. He didn’t know what really went on, so I just talked to him and tried to comfort him in any way I could.”
It was right after Dobson’s passing that the Vols’ defender knew he wanted to make the switch from No. 6 to No. 24.
“I talked to Zack about it and he let me know that he was also going to wear (24),” Kelly said. “I didn’t want it to be a big deal. I want it to be all about (Zaevion) and less about me, because it’s all about Zaevion. I know he’s looking down from heaven and is very happy about this, and I hope that his legacy continues.
“The number 24, that’s really how (his family) represents him. ‘Twenty-four strong’ and ‘Long live Zae’ are just some of the hashtags or sayings that represent him, but really he doesn’t need sayings. He had so much of an impact, just to see his smile walking about school, around the city, around the community.”
Watching the Dobson family accept the Arthur Ashe Courage Award during the ESPY’s in July on behalf of their youngest son was an emotional event for Kelly to watch, especially knowing how much Zae would have loved the experience. But he was also happy to see the family enjoy their experience at the awards show.
“I also talked to Zack. He had a really good time out there and got to meet some celebrities. He had a SnapChat with (Golden State Warriors guard) Steph Curry, but ultimately, you know, I wish Zaevion could have been there.
“(Zae) was just a kid who loved football and wanted to do anything he could to be on this next level, no matter where he was in college. So being from Knoxville and knowing him really well, I feel like wearing the No. 24 just shows his impact on the country.”