High-school kicker from Peoria inspires the nation

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PEORIA -- Centennial High School in Peoria spent much of the season ranked among the top teams in the country. It's a real honor to start for the Coyotes' football team. But, for their kicker, it's nothing short of a miracle.

While kicking for the Centennial Coyotes this year, senior, Jesse Ortiz nailed 93 percent of his PATs. He went 78 of 84. He also knocked down three of his five field goals.

His stats are impressive. But, his story is even more so.

"I've been privleged beyond belief," says the star kicker.

When Jesse was just 3 years old, he was diagnosed with autism. He was placed in special classes and therapy sessions. He was non-verbal in his younger years. The so-called experts said he would most likely end up in a group home.

His mother, Margaret, remebers the day he was diagnosed.

"I thought, 'This is just awful. This is going to be so difficult for him. This is going to be an uphill battle,'" she recalled.

It was an uphill battle Jesse was winning. When Jesse was a freshman in high school, he told his parents about a new goal. He wanted to play football for one of the best teams in the country.

His parents say he practiced almost every day. He even trained with Max and Alex Zendejas. Alex is a former college kicker and Max played at U of A and in the NFL. The brothers volunteered their time.

"The discipline it takes for athletics is not much different than his therapy sessions," Jesse's mom said. "It allowed him to get exercise and rest better."

With football season now over, Jesse spends his time giving back. He coaches a Special Olympics flag football team that, with his help, took state last year. He also hopes to inspire others sharing his story on his Web site and Facebook. And, he is not done training. Jesse wants to go to the University of Arizona next year, and plans to eventually walk onto the football team, just like Rudy Ruettiger at Notre Dame in the '70s.

In fact, Jesse is one of 30 teens up for a national award named for Ruettiger. It's an honor given to the person with the most inspirational story in the country, and you can help Jesse win. Just vote for Jesse to win the Rudy Award -- and a $10,000 scholorship -- online. You can vote as often as you like in the next two weeks.