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Friends, Auburn WR Sammie Coates and 12yo Kenzie Ray Inspire Each Other

Sammie Coates and McKenzie Ray pose down. Photo courtesy of AL.com
Sammie Coates and McKenzie Ray pose down. Photo courtesy of AL.com


This Thursday is New Years Day. For many college football nuts, like your humble correspondent, January 1st is all about the bowls. The new year is also the perfect time to commit to making our lives, as well as the lives of those around us better. Combining these two aspects of New Years Day will be on display in this year’s Outback Bowl in Tampa, FL.  I want to spotlight one very impressive young athlete for you all to watch in Auburn’s tilt against Wisconsin this Thursday at noon on one of the four-letter network’s (ESPN) channels.

It is always heartwarming to see, hear, or read stories about extraordinary athletes doing extraordinary things off the field to match their on-the-field exploits. One of best wide receivers in the Southeast Conference, Sammie Coates of the Auburn Tigers gets it! This is evident by his relationship with a special young lady who is in the fight of her life. A lifelong Tigers’ fan, 12 year old Kenzie Ray is engaged in a toe-to-toe fight with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. As a special guest of the Auburn majorette squad one game day in September, 2013, Kenzie happened to catch the eye of Coates.

“I just walked up top her, not knowing anything about her…not knowing what’s going on in her life. Just looking in her eyes, I saw something special with her!”, said the future NFL star wide receiver.

They struck up a conversation, then a friendship, and the rest as they say, is history. During their unwavering friendship, they have described each other as each other’s strength; for Kenzie’s fight against leukemia, and not only for Coates’ gridiron battles, but for the difficult emotional moments he faces when he thinks about the father that he lost at the age of 11.
There was no greater example of what they mean to each other than when Kenzie was admitted into the hospital in June, 2014. With no immune system due to a really tough round of chemotherapy, she came down with pneumonia and her survival was very much in question.

“They had told us that night that she may not make it. I called Sammie to let him know what was going on and within three hours, he was there.” recalls Kenzie’s mom, Keisha Ray.

When Sammie walked into her hospital room, he was horrified by what he saw.

“I went back there, it was bad. She had tubes running through her, she couldn’t talk. She didn’t know what was going on around her. It was one of the hardest things to see.” opined, Coates.

It was their strength, both individually and collectively that pulled Kenzie out of that dire prognosis. She is not out of the woods yet, but is now back in her normal surroundings on Saturdays; behind the hedges rooting on her favorite Auburn Tigers and her best friend, Sammie Coates.  He is fully aware that she is there every game and that inspires him to be at his best.

“She makes me a better person every time I’m around her. She just makes me stronger. She’s one of the people I love a lot and I’m playing for her. I’m going to give it my all for her.” said Coates.

Keisha Ray recognizes the bond between the two as one that extends beyond the little girl with cancer and the football player that makes for a great story.

“I think we’re going to be friends forever. No matter what, we’re always going to be friends. He means everything, I don’t know that I would do without him.” said a smitten Kenzie.

With combined strength and determination, as well as an undying friendship, I can’t imagine anything but a promising NFL career for Sammie and a optimistic prognosis for Kenzie.

click here for more information about acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Matt Petrero

Matt Petrero

Covering the Denver Broncos since January, 2013, Matt's unique style of humor-infused game analysis and all other things Broncos has garnered a steady increase in viewership on PredomiantlyOrange.com. And he brings that writing style to P2P. A New Jersey native, Matt currently resides in Maryland with his wife Jennifer and pup, Teddy. However, after summers spent as a kid and 10 years as a resident, (not to mention a love of most things from the Centennial state) he calls Colorado as his home state. Matt hosts a weekly two hour radio show on a local, Harford County, MD. station which pays homage to the music of the decades of the 70s and 80s. He has a healthy fascination for the Brooklyn Dodgers, early Rock n Roll, 1950's culture, and is a rockabilly geek. He not only loves the thrill of competition, but also the importance of it and it's performers in the community. And that's what makes P2P and Matt Petrero the perfect marriage (I know, speaking of myself in the 3rd person makes me squirm also).
Matt Petrero

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