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Football players, teams use gear to show off personality, support causes
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Football players, teams use gear to show off personality, support causes

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Ray Weed takes more than just himself on the football field.

Five years ago, his older brother, Anthony Marquez, was injured in a trampoline accident and is now a quadriplegic.

Some time after that, his mother, Lori Weed, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and is still battling the disease.

Ray Weed wanted to do something special to honor them during his final high school season.

The Absegami High School senior had his cleats customized. His unique pair are white Nikes with the purple, teal and pink thyroid cancer ribbon, green lettering that reads “4 Anthony,” the Braves logo and his No. 16.

With team uniforms and certain state regulations, it can be hard for players to show off their personality, which is why special cleats are unique.

Many athletes across the state customize their own gear, whether that be their mouthpieces, gloves or cleats. Like Weed, some players honor family members or friends. Others support causes or design something fun to express themselves.

“I think it’s huge,” Weed said. “I think a lot of kids are doing a great job showing who they are with different things they wear.”

Marquez, 21, used to be a competitive cheerleader. He was practicing his tumbling and other moves when another person accidentally rolled underneath him. Marquez attempted to move to avoid the collision and fell on his neck, breaking his C4 and C5 vertebrae, which are motion segments on the spinal cord.

Weed, 18, of Galloway Township, told his family he was ordering customized cleats, but did not tell anybody his real plans until they arrived.

“Never did I think it was going to be something so personal for our family,” Lori said.

“When I finally saw them in person, I understood why he didn’t tell me what he actually put on them,” Marquez said. “I had one of those proud big brother moments that makes me remember why I push through my struggle on a day-to-day basis.”

The cleats arrived before the Braves’ season-opener Aug. 27. Weed posted an image of them on Twitter. His parents saw them at a restaurant before the game, and both were filled with emotion.

“My heart stopped for a second and tears ran down my face,” Lori said. “At first I was speechless for a little while, then finally said, ‘My kid is just so amazing.’

“I knew how much the tragedy of Anthony had impacted him, but I never knew how much me being sick impacted him. I never knew he realized my struggle. Like we always say, he plays these sports for so much more than just himself. He plays for something so much greater.”

Marquez said, “A lot of people don’t realize that (Ray’s) fight doesn’t end when he steps off the field.”

Ray helps his brother eat and get in and out of bed, sometimes having to get up at 2 a.m. to assist him, Marquez said.

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“I can’t help him with a lot of things, but I do know when he looks down at his shoes on the field, I can give him a little more strength to keep pushing,” Marquez said.

This is why the senior quarterback wants to push himself every snap of every game, Weed said.

“It’s a big inspiration to me because every time I play, it could be my last time,” said Weed. “(Marquez) never expected to get hurt. You never as an athlete expect to get hurt doing what you love to do. So you have to play every snap like it’s your last, because you never know when it will be.”

Sometimes, an entire team will wear special gear to support causes. For instance, the Egg Harbor Township football team is wearing pink and black socks and pink mouthpieces each game this month to support breast cancer awareness.

The Eagles are doing so in partnership with the Shirley Mae Breast Cancer Assistance Fund, with which assistant coach Joe DeSalle’s wife, Katie, is involved. The DeSalles purchased the pink gear through the foundation.

The EHT cheerleaders also joined in, wearing pink ribbons during their game against Ocean City on Oct. 1.

“It’s cool,” EHT coach Kevin Stetser said. “I think black and pink look great together. So we really like doing it. I think it looks sharp, and the kids want to express themselves. But this is nice because we are also doing it as a team, as a unit.

“It’s not creating any individuality, but yet they still get to wear some bling and look good.”

Not many EHT players have unique cleats, as the program likes to stick to its black and silver colors, Stetser said. But his players get designs within those colors, some wearing “very sharp pairs” of black or silver cleats.

“It’s good for kids to get a chance to express themselves,” Stetser said. “You don’t want to go too far outside of school colors and all those other things. But it is neat when they get an opportunity to do that. ... Look good, feel good, play good.”

Some players like to have fun with their cleats or other gear on Fridays or Saturdays.

St. Augustine Prep senior running back Kanye Udoh’s cleats are “SpongeBob SquarePants”-themed. The 17-year-old from Mays Landing wanted his pair to be something that stood out for his final season, especially because, in college, players wear the same cleats, he said.

“I wanted to get something everyone would know,” Udoh said. “And who doesn’t love SpongeBob?”

Udoh’s pair feature the characters of SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward and Mr. Krabs. One shoe has SpongeBob’s iconic pineapple house, the other Squidward’s moai-looking home. Both cleats are blue because, after all, it is Bikini Bottom, with the show’s flower clouds. The pair were customized at JM Art & Designs in Atlantic City.

A few players wore customized cleats last season.

Patrick “Cheeks” Smith, a recent Holy Spirit graduate who is now a freshman running back at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, donned a few pairs of customized cleats during the 2020 season, including a “Toy Story”-themed pair. One was customized for Woody, the other for Buzz Lightyear.

E’lijah Gray, who also graduated from Holy Spirit in 2020, wore cleats honoring former Spartans football coach and administrator Bill Walsh, who died in November 2019 after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Udoh is the only player on his team with customized cleats, and his teammates absolutely love his pair, he said.

“It’s definitely great because there are different ways to show who you are, besides just playing,” Udoh said. “Playing, you can’t really express yourself or show off (your personality). So it’s a great way to do it while still staying focused and being able to play.”

“To go out and wear cleats that honor people who are important to you or things that are important to you, it brings a different element to your game,” Weed said. “You look down and see something like that on your cleat, it gives you another reason as to why you are doing what you are doing.”

Contact Patrick Mulranen: 609-272-7217

PMulranen@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPressMulranen

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