Hightower dreamed big and reached the top, he has a ring to prove it
By Ivory Riner
"Patriots win!" thousands shouted as Marshall County High School graduate Dont'a Hightower helped his team to victory during Sunday's Super Bowl XLIX game.
Just hours before the game, nearly 2,000 miles away, as Hightower was gearing up for the game of his life, in Glendale, Ariz., about 200 of his fans filled the bleachers of the Dottie Kelso Gymnasium at Marshall County High School for a pep rally.
"Hey all you Patriot fans," the MCHS cheerleaders yelled as they led the crowd in cheers, replacing the words "Marshall County High School" with "New England Patriots." Steve Acklin, who is the family's preacher, said a sentimental prayer, asking that Hightower bring home a win.
Renea Freeman, who is good friends with the Hightower family, organized the rally.
"For someone who has accomplished something to this extent and greatness, I believe that we need to show our support," said Freeman.
Some may have noticed signs around town reading, "Dont'a Hightower #54," and "Zeus we love you!"
This was Freeman and her daughter, Telisha Acklin's, hopes of getting the community to come out Sunday and rally for their beloved friend.
"There has never been anyone from Lewisburg play in the Major League Baseball playoffs, there has never been anyone from Lewisburg play in the National Basketball Association playoffs, and there most definitely has never been anyone from Lewisburg to play in the Super Bowl, until today! We are all proud of him. He brings honor to his family, his team, and himself," said Jim Bingham, mayor of Lewisburg.
Bingham requested that a Super Bowl XLIX ring be placed on Hightower's Mr. Football banner hanging in the gymnasium of MCHS.
"On behalf of the Marshall County school system, we are so proud of you. We love you; you are our hero," said Director of Schools Jackie Abernathy.
Nancy Pruitt, who was Hightower's principal at MCHS, shared kind words for Hightower.
In middle school, Hightower went by the name Qualin. Angie Phifer, who is Pruitt's daughter, was familiar with him because she taught him in middle school. The first day of practice during his freshman year of football, he requested Phifer, who was helping with the football team, change his name on the roster.
"Why do you want me to change your name? It is correct on the roster, I know I didn't misspell it," Phifer said.
"I want to go by Dont'a now," explained Hightower.
Phifer changed his name on the roster, but unbeknownst to her, that name she became fond of was to be seen by millions on national television.
"He has maintained his character, dignity, and kindness through it all," said Pruitt, "In the middle of all the drama that was going on last week, Dont'a sent me a 'Happy Birthday Nap' message. Who else would have ever thought to do that in the middle of preparing for the game of his life?"
Pruitt praised Hightower's mother, L'Tanya, for how much support and strength she maintained throughout his career. As a single parent, she taught him to hold his standards high and, of course, to always call home at least once a week, even if he was preparing for the Super Bowl.
"L'Tanya insisted he do a good job, and he keep his feet grounded. His late grandfather, John Hightower, was so proud of Dont'a. He would always say, 'That's my boy right there.' They had a special relationship," Pruitt said.
Stanley Murphey, who was Hightower's assistant principal at MCHS, William Sparrow and Jerome Beasley, who coached Hightower's pee wee football team, the Red Devils, and his aunts and uncles also shared encouraging words during the rally.
Hightower not only brought home a victory for the New England Patriots, he lit a path for several athletes to follow. He is and will continue to be an example of someone who reached his full potential. Hightower shows that it doesn't matter where you come from, you can make your dreams come true. All it takes is a little dreaming.
As his uncle Dalane Hightower said, "Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard."