Ask Chase Carrillo what is the one thing in this world with which he will never part, and there is no hesitation in his answer.
"On Mother's Day of my sophomore year I had a construction class. I made a wooden bench, a two-seated bench with a console in the middle. It's the last thing I ever gave my mother," he said, surrendering to the tears forming in his eyes. "She loved it so much."
Julie Carrillo passed away the next month, June 28, 2017, succumbing to her battle with cancer. She never saw him play a varsity football game for the Stephenville Yellow Jackets — and she did so love watching her little boy play football.
"She never missed a game, only when there was an emergency and she had to be in the hospital, whether it was football or baseball," Chase said.
And yes, he knows some people might think it cliche', but he doesn't care. He likes to think Julie now has the best seat of all to watch his games, so he gives everything he has on every single play to give her something to brag about to her friends in Heaven.
"Oh, she's watching," he said. "And she's telling everyone up there, 'That's my son.'"
Chase is giving Julie plenty to brag about. Last season he was a first-team all-district kicker with 84 points (69 extra points, five field goals with a long of 40 yards) in 15 games. He was also second-team all-district at defensive back with 110 tackles (61 solo), two fumble recoveries, a blocked punt, and a tackle for a safety.
This season he's off to another great start. Through the Jackets' first three games he has 28 tackles (18 solo), with one interception and 19 kicking points.
"I give that kid a hug every time I can," Jackets head coach Greg Winder said. "He's a great example of strength to us all. We preach all the time that life is not just about the X's and O's, and that not everything is going to be perfect every day.
"Chase is a tremendous leader, who leads by example. Our other young men understand what he's been through, and yet he goes out there."
Julie would have it no other way.
Ironically, Julie was first diagnosed with colon cancer when Chase was in the eighth grade. She appeared to have won that fight and he said she was diagnosed clean for about six months before the deadly disease reared its ugly head again.
Chase and his family have always been close, and they are even more so now. Like his mother, his dad, Gilbert, never misses a game in which Chase or his sister Cheney are playing in. Cheney is a junior soccer player for the SHS Honeybees, who won the girls Class 4A state championship in 2016.
Whether it's her on the soccer field or Chase on the football field, the other is on the sidelines as the biggest cheerleader.
"My dad and my sister, they mean everything to me," Chase said. "I love spending every second I can with them, especially now."
Gilbert was once a professional rodeo athlete and co-founder of the Professional Bull Riders circuit before retiring over a decade ago. He still ropes, and often he and Chase team rope together.
"When I was little I wanted to ride bulls, but my dad didn't want me to," Chase said, adding with a chuckle, "Now I don't want to.
"But I'll probably rope the rest of my life. It's great time to share with my dad. It's harder to find the time since I made varsity, but whenever we get the chance it's always special."
Julie was awarded the PBR's Sharon Shoulders Award posthumously in 2017. The award recognizes the great women of professional bull riding whose work, partnership and faith have been as integral to the sport as the athletes themselves. She and Gilbert ran 4C’s Bucking Bulls and training facility in Stephenville.
Chase would love to play football in college, but he said he realizes at 5-9 and 170 pounds, the odds are better at playing kicker than defensive back. And while he likes kicking, he loves playing defense.
"I would 100 percent rather play defense than kick, but I'm also realistic, so if I could kick in college, I'd do it, as long as I could play," he said.
Chase wants to be an engineer and work for his dad and uncle in the oil field industry. Mostly, he just wants to spend the rest of his life making his mother proud.
"I will always miss her, for the rest of my life," he said. "Football practice and games, they help me forget the pain for at least a moment, and all the sad things go away. Then, I realize how blessed I am to have the family I have, and to have her as a mother."