The image is one of the more powerful in recent Boise State football history, showing Shea McClellin walking hand in hand out of the smoke before a game with a 12-year-old fan named Stephen Kinsey.
Kinsey had received a diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma a year prior, and his Make-A-Wish Foundation request was to be part of the Broncos. It was like nothing Boise State had done before, treating Kinsey like a coach, fan and team member leading up to and after that Nov. 6, 2010, game versus Hawaii.
Boise State won 42-7 that day, the cherry on top of a weekend that included plenty of gifts, lunch with Boise State’s quarterbacks, hanging out with then-coach Chris Petersen and his family, and the chance to be on the sideline with the coaches during the game. But the slow walk out of the tunnel, McClellin clutching the team’s hammer and Kinsey with a smaller version, was emotional for everyone on hand.
“That was probably the coolest thing ever,” then-quarterback Kellen Moore said. “It was a special moment.”
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In the six-plus years since, Kinsey has continued to fight and continued to progress. And Boise State and its supporters have not forgotten him. Kinsey earned his high school diploma Saturday. Home-schooled, he got it from the state of Texas and had a private ceremony at his church. It has been more than two years since his last chemotherapy treatment.
“I always knew I was going to graduate, but for a while it was just about surviving,” Kinsey said on Wednesday. “It was a surreal moment, kind of still is. Definitely a milestone I’m proud of.”
Kinsey plans to pursue a theology degree starting in the fall, and also is considering learning a trade that involves working on cars, one of his favorite hobbies. He hopes to one day be a teacher and perhaps have a side business related to cars. He still receives treatment to keep the cancer from returning, but he said that may end in January. He’ll be considered cancer-free after five years.
“I’m enjoying life a lot,” Kinsey said. “They say that high school is the best time of your life, but I’m not so sure about that. I’m excited about what’s next.”
In the years since he made an indelible impression at Boise State, he has maintained regular contact with fans, players and coaches. He said he will get texts from Petersen a few times a year and in recent days heard from former players Jamar Taylor and Aaron Tevis. Fans sent him letters and cards for his birthday and graduation.
“It’s amazing that to this day I’m still in communication with a lot of people from Boise State,” Kinsey said. “I remember thinking I’d go up there, have fun and a few months later I might not hear from them anymore. But it’s been years, and I still hear from people. It’s crazy. It means a lot to me.”