Dakota Nofsinger is a freshman football player at Washington. He showed up to every practice this season, including weight sessions. Nofsinger has autism, and he was encouraged to play football by family friend and senior football player Jacob Kolb.

And on Oct. 14, Nofsinger became a superstar.

During a freshman football game between Washington and East Peoria, Nofsinger ran for his first career score on a play offensive coordinator Zach Davis appropriately called “touchdown.”

Nofsinger was “excited because I’ve never scored before,” he said on the Tuesday following the game. Both teams practiced the play leading up to the moment, which was captured on video. It shows Nofsinger go off right tackle and outrun his blocker. He even made a guy miss on his way to the end zone, where his family waited for him.

The week after, Nofsinger still was talking about the play with his teammates, coaches and family. Freshman coach J.J. Guedet says the team tried carrying Nofsinger off the field on their shoulders.

“I’m still emotional about it,” Dakota’s mom, Sharlena Nofsinger said. “It was incredible to see him be a part of a group and be accepted.”

Said Davis, who designed the play: “It was a great opportunity to recognize Dakota. He deserves this. ... I loved seeing all of our players rushing the field to celebrate.”

The impact of Nofsinger’s touchdown has been enormous. Teammate Brandon Smith has a brother with autism, a fact very few on the team knew before the play was drawn up.

“It was really cool to see him play and get out with everyone,” Smith said. “I can really relate to Dakota just with having a brother with autism. The moment itself was pretty amazing.”

Davis, a physical education teacher at Washington, said teachers came up to him to hug and thank him. He also says that everyone is talking about the play.

“The overwhelming response has been incredible,” Davis said. “It impacts people’s lives that aren’t even a part of the program.”

Washington thanks East Peoria’s coaches and players for agreeing to be a part of Dakota’s special moment. Sharlena is grateful, too.

“You have to give credit to both teams. We’re really thankful for that,” Sharlena said. “It shows that they both have a lot of integrity. The sportsmanship on both teams is great.”

Sharlena says Washington has been a great school system for Dakota. She believes this moment is a perfect example as to why there shouldn’t be barriers.

“If they show interest in something, don’t hold them back,” Sharlena said. “Give them an opportunity. There doesn’t have to be boundaries.”