Joshua Sheffield donned a No. 4 BYU jersey with a black boot protecting his broken foot and a football in one hand. He was ready to be a BYU player, if only for a day.
The 5-year-old boy looked tiny compared to the BYU football players who surrounded him on the outdoor practice field. It was hard not to see the similarities between Joshua and BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, especially with the boot and the No. 4 jersey. The young boy even dubbed himself “Teeny Taysom.”
On Thursday morning, through the Make-a-Wish Foundation and BYU’s Thursday’s Hero program, Sheffield watched the football team practice and even got to throw a couple of passes with some BYU starters such as Christian Stewart, Mitch Mathews and Jordan Leslie.
“He was a fun little kid,” Mathews said. “He had lots of energy, had a good time, and he wanted to throw with the quarterback and receivers, and we’d do it anytime. We love to do it.”
After watching the BYU football team practice with wide eyes, Sheffield received a warm welcome and gifts from the Cougars, including BYU t-shirts for every day of the week. The players finally put the boy on their shoulders to do a team huddle. Sheffield was speechless, as well as a little shy.
“It was great,” said Clinton Sheffield, Joshua’s dad. “It was really special. It was fun to see him just play. … He’s a pretty tough kid. It’s fun to see him healthy, too.”
Doctors diagnosed Joshua Sheffield with leukemia at the age of 4. The family was visiting grandparents in Texas during Christmas when the boy became ill. The family quickly flew him back to their home in Rochester, New York, to begin treatment. Soon after, however, Joshua Sheffield contracted an infection that nearly took his life.
“He didn’t have any white blood cells to fight the infection,” said Lisa Sheffield, Joshua’s mother. “So, he then got really, really sick, and we came close to losing him. …He’s come a long way, though. … Since then he’s gone into remission, and he’s still on chemotherapy trying to keep the cancer away. But he feels normal. As much as there are things about him that are not normal, he feels like a normal kid.”
The Sheffield family moved to Murray to be closer to relatives. In Utah, the family became involved with Make-a-Wish Foundation and Joshua Sheffield got the chance to make a wish.
Make-a-Wish Foundation is a program designed to give children with life-threatening illnesses a chance to make a wish. While not all children are terminally sick, it creates “magic” moments for children and family who want to do something memorable together.
“Once we meet the families, we have them come to the wish center,” said Trenna Widener, a volunteer wish granter for the foundation. “They have a wishing room, and they get to go to the top. Once they’ve decided what wish they want, they put it in the wizard’s hat and send the wish off to be granted. It is really awesome. It’s a really neat process.”
Joshua Sheffield could have wished for anything. The most popular wish in Utah, according to Widener, is a trip to Disney World. To some, the boy’s wish seemed small. To him, however, being a BYU football player was just as big as going on a trip.
“From the time he was 2, his favorite thing to do is to sit on his dad’s lap and watch highlights of games,” Lisa said. “He can just sit there for hours. He can sit and watch the entire game and tell you highlights and plays. … It does not surprise me at all that was what he wanted.”
The entire time while at the BYU practice, Joshua Sheffield was either throwing a football around with his brothers and cousins or watching the players in awe. His parents said they were first taken on a tour of the football facilities, and while Joshua Sheffield did not mind it, he was anxious to get outside. He knew just where the players were.
“It was a lot of fun,” BYU tight end Devin Mahina said. “You could just see how excited he was to be here with the team. And, you know, after watching his video you could just tell that he loved BYU football. So, it was just a great opportunity for us to make him smile.”
BYU kicker Trevor Samson is no stranger to the Make-a-Wish foundation, having been a recipient in the same foundation. Samson was born with biliary atresia, a life-threatening disease that affects the bile ducts around the liver. At the age of 17, he made a wish similar to Joshua’s: Samson wanted to meet players from the San Francisco 49ers. Being on the other end of a wish, Samson played with the boy before practice was over to show his support.
The exciting experience ended with the Sheffield family attending the BYU-Nevada game Saturday night. After a year and a half, plus several weeks in the intensive care unit, Joshua Sheffield is healthy. He started kindergarten this year, and his family has a wish of their own: to see their son be 100 percent healthy again.
After throwing a few passes to “Teeny Taysom,” Stewart summed Joshua Sheffield up perfectly:
“You could tell he’s a fighter. He wasn’t giving up until he got that catch from 15 yards.”