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  The Friday night lights still shine bright as the Yoakum Bulldogs gather for a group photo on the field at New Braunfels' Unicorn Stadium. The team rejoices in handily defeating Devine in an area round playoff game Nov. 21.

  "Hey, where's Mike? Get Mike out here," came yells from the rowdy group of assembling victors, asking for their No. 1 fan and honorary Bulldog to join them.

  Mikal Gasch, 19, was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Put simply: He suffers from defective vertebrae and their protective covering in the spine, which causes physical and mental disabilities as well as an abnormal accumulation of spinal fluid.

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Although he needed special crutches to walk and is small in frame, the determined junior high school student and Special Olympics athlete wasn't deterred from trying out for the football team: his dream.

"When the coach told him he didn't need to try out, he got upset," Mikal's grandmother, Cindy Gasch, said. Mikal continued going through the drills and worked out regularly with the high school players. "They told him he will always be part of this team," she said.

This was never more true than in May 2012, when a fluid-filled cyst that had formed in his brain stem required surgery. It was the 20th surgery in Mikal's young life.

That was when the football and baseball teams at Yoakum High School came to his home, giving him his own blue and white jersey, with his dad's high school No. 20, which he wears every Friday night in the fall.

"It's even hard to put into words - how much that they have just accepted him and loved him and just the unconditional support that we get," Mikal's mother, Sonja Gasch, 45, said. "That's an amazing feeling when you're not really sure how it occurred or what he did."

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While the inexplicable charisma that draws people to him is still present, the surgery changed much of Mikal's life.

Complications draining the cyst caused him to need a tracheostomy, and he can no longer swallow - meaning he needs a feeding tube to eat. The surgery also paralyzed his vocal cords.

"I haven't heard his voice since that day. That vocal sound." Gasch said. "Something that you never realize how much you'll miss it or take it for granted."

Also, while he spent about 90 percent of his time walking before the surgery, he is still working in physical therapy on re-learning to walk well and spends most of his time in a wheelchair.

"No matter how much money we try to spend or how much therapy we try to put him through, there's absolutely nothing that we as his parents can do to change that or any aspect of the life he has now," Gasch said. "That's so hard - not having that ability to make him whole and healthy, when I think that's all that he wants. He misses that Mikal that he was prior to May 2012."

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Although it is a challenge, the hardships have not stopped Mikal from being a part of the team, following the game action up and down the sidelines and sitting in on half-time pep talks in the locker room.

His main frustration is when the Bulldogs are in trouble; the coach has yet to put him in to help. When asked what he wants to do on the team, Mikal's immediate answer is "tackle."

"They put everything out there and leave it on the field, and they always get back up and go for the next drive," Gasch explained for her son. "That's very much a part of his personality."

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