MEDFORD (CBS) – At eight years old he may be the youngest player to be drafted for a college team, but Riley Roman of South Hadley has the biggest heart.
“Riley’s such a strong kid, he’s got that smile,” said his cousin Molly McCarthy. He smiles through a life threatening condition, brain cancer, that brought Riley to Tufts University for a dream day. It was a chance to “try out” for the Tufts Jumbos by watching the team go through the paces of running and relay.
At his side was his mentor Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich who met Riley at Dana Farber last November, and the two have become friends. “This gets him out of the hospital, around a football field. I’m happy to be a part of it,” said Ninkovich.
Riley’s condition has robbed him of the chance to play the sports he loves. This gives him an opportunity to become part of a team. “He’s got the toughest guys running around him. It’s a great feeling to be part of a team,” said Ninkovich.
The event was sponsored by Team IMPACT, a nonprofit group that was formed to improve the quality of life for children with life threatening illnesses by matching them to team-based sports.
His cousin says Riley, a big Patriots fan, also likes having influential friends on the field like Ninkovich. “He’s like, yeah one of my best friends is on the New England Patriots, it’s no big deal. He’s excited about it,” said McCarthy.
For some of the Tufts players it’s the first time they’ve mentored a young patient, and watching Riley has been a real life lesson. “It’s tough to see him in the hospital with nurses and doctors all around him. This gives him a chance to get away from all that,” said Jumbo quarterback John Dodds.
Riley showed he’s got the stuff, earning a “letter of intent” to join the team. But the real intent was to boost the spirits of a boy in the battle of his life.