ST. LOUIS — Some people cross your path and change your direction
No one knows that better than 16-year-old Wyntr Knisely.
"Even though Wyntr is very outgoing, it's still hard for him to make friends," his mom Jennifer Lowe said.
And making it even tougher, the family moved to Toledo, Ohio, just before the world shut down. He'd become a pandemic prisoner of sorts.
Wyntr was born with a severe congenital heart defect. He had the first of three open-heart surgeries when he was just two weeks old.
"So because of the multiple surgeries so early on in his life, it caused a lot of developmental delays," said Lowe.
Wyntr's heart may have a defect but it's always had plenty of space for love and for sports.
On most days, you can find him buttoned-down on the Xbox.
"When you tell a kid he can't play sports, the next best thing is video games," Lowe said with a laugh.
But Wyntr's not just a couch potato.
He also loves being outside with his football.
"He literally throws the football to himself," said Lowe. "So he will throw it as far as he can in the side yard and he will run to catch it."
And his game of one-man catch caught someone's eye.
"Last summer I drove by and I could tell he was working hard," said a smiling Lavel Dumont.
Dumont would drive by Wyntr's house on his way to school and one day he just decided to stop.
"I was surprised when Lavel pulled up that day because that never happened. I would be out there all day every day and no one would come up," Wyntr said.
"Wyntr calls me and says, 'Mom, some guy just stopped and talked to me,'" Lowe said. "And I gave him my phone number and I said, 'Um, you did what?'"
"I didn't think about it at the time," Dumont said. "A random guy pulling up in a car, like trying to speak to him is not the best look."
But Lavel was impressed with Wyntr's dedication and so he offered him some tickets to an upcoming University of Toledo game. That's where he plays football.
Lavel Dumont is a 6-foot-4, 300-pound offensive lineman for the Rockets.
"I think he's a product of good parenting," says Toledo Head Coach Jason Candle. "I think it's a guy that really understands the value of work."
That work was about to pay off until he broke his leg in the first game of last season.
"That's a tough time going through an injury for a young man," Candle said.
But hard times often reveal good character. And Lavel used his time to get to know Wyntr. They may seem like an odd couple but they're now just good buddies who give each other good grief.
While others were staying socially distant, they grew close.
"Lavel actually goes out of his way to make time for Wyntr," Lowe said. "He comes over and picks him up and they'll go play basketball, or they'll just talk."
And when playing Xbox, the buttons they push aren't just the ones on the controller.
"I'm not going to say too much. But the only time he's ever beat me, he cheated. That's all I'm going to say," Dumont said with a laugh.
For his 16th birthday party, Lavel was the first name on Wyntr's invitation list but Jennifer told her son Lavel was busy. She was actually conspiring with assistant coach Rob Weiner to bring a whole group of Rockets to the party.
"That was an opportunity really for kind of our whole team to recognize that this kind of act that just kind of happened out of the blue," Weiner said. "This is something that we really want to be all about and we should all be behind."
And then Lavel showed up.
"He came, gave me a big hug, like jumped on me a little bit," said a smiling Dumont.
Wyntr's family recently made another move. But even though he and Lavel are now miles apart, they're never far away.
"That's my buddy man. That's my buddy. I love Wyntr," said Dumont.
"He's a brother to me, he's a friend to me, he's my family," Wyntr added.
When we were keeping our distance, they came together.
A college football player who was driving by and helped the pandemic take a turn.