CLEVELAND, Tenn. — In the hectic moments leading up to tonight's kickoff, Tre'Var Moore will attempt to do the impossible, stepping away from his teammates to steal a few seconds of solitude. Surrounded by the noise and excitement of Cleveland High School's biggest football game in nearly two decades, the senior defensive lineman will find a spot somewhere along the sideline to bow his head and say a silent prayer.
Once he opens his eyes, without even turning to look into the stands, Moore will somehow pick out, among the thousands of cheering fans, the voice that has been an inspiration throughout his life.
"When I first started playing football, my mom would be at every practice and every game yelling for me," Moore said. "She would be that mom running up and down the sideline, always cheering.
"Now I look up in the stands during warm-ups to see where she's sitting so later when we come out on the field for the game I don't even have to look back there for her. I can actually hear her voice over everybody else's yelling for me. And knowing what it takes for her just to be there to support me, that gives me that boost to know I can overcome anything."
While Moore's mother, Vonda Brewer, has never missed one of his games, she hasn't seen her son play in eight years.
Brewer, a single mom, lost her sight when Tre'Var was 10 years old and his sister, Kiara, was 6. But Brewer has continued to set an example of strength and support for both her children.
And tonight, when Cleveland's football team travels to Knoxville West for a Class 5A state semifinal, Brewer will make sure Tre'Var knows she's right there behind him.
"The highlight of the whole year for our family and our community is what this team is doing," Brewer said. "Getting to be there and experience this season for Tre is something I will never forget.
"It wasn't my kids' fault that this happened to me, so I want to make sure I'm still there to support them in everything they do."
When she was just 18 years old, the same age as Tre'Var, a series of severe migraines led Brewer to undergo tests to determine the cause. She was diagnosed with a neurological disorder -- pseudotumor cerebri or PTC -- characterized by increased pressure around the brain, leading to swelling of the optic disc in the eye, which can progress to vision loss.
Episodes of tunnel vision followed.
Then, eight years ago during a routine checkup, Brewer's doctor informed her that her sight was beginning to deteriorate more rapidly.
"It was the day before my daughter's sixth birthday, and I was so scared, but I couldn't let on that I was worried or sad because she was all dressed up for a princess party with all of her friends," Brewer said. "It was tough because I knew that might be the last time I would see happiness on my daughter's face.
"That's when I started to touch both my kids' faces a lot more and just stare at them. I was studying their face so I would remember how they looked if I lost my sight."
Just 10 days after being told that her eyesight would fade quickly, Brewer opened her eyes one morning to a brightness she compares to staring directly at a projector's light. She fumbled and felt her way along the hallway and told her grandmother, who was living with the family at the time, that she had completely lost her vision.
"When you think of being blind, you think of being in complete darkness," Brewer said. "But that's not how my blindness is. For me, everything is lost in bright light.
It was scary, she said, wondering how she was going to raise two kids without her sight.
"But I couldn't feel sorry for myself," she said. "I had to let them see me still moving forward, still being their mother."
A SON STEPS UP
But looking after a 10-year-old son and 6-year old daughter with her limitations would require help, especially after Brewer's grandmother died. Then Brewer had to retire from her job at Maytag Appliance Manufacturing in Cleveland.
That's when Tre'Var stepped in.
He began to make decisions far beyond his maturity level. He took on the responsibility of handling the household chores, from laundry and cleaning the house to running errands to the grocery store, learning to cook and even paying the family's bills with his mother's credit card over the phone.
"Tre's going to make some woman a really good husband," Brewer said. "He doesn't just treat me like gold, he treats everybody he's around like that."
But the transition from childhood innocence to adult responsibilities took an emotional toll on Tre'Var. His grades began to slide and before he had even reached middle school, he was assigned a school counselor to help him cope with his mother's disability.
"It broke me down to see her like that," Tre'Var said. "I was depressed as a kid because I'm so close to my mom and I was scared and sad for her. I didn't understand what was happening and it took me a couple of years of talking about it before I finally adjusted to it and accepted that even though she has limitations, it could be worse. I finally realized we're blessed because she's still here with us."
That doesn't mean she doesn't struggle, or that he doesn't hurt over it all.
"I even questioned why God would take away her sight, but she just told me it's a test for her," he said. "She's made me a stronger person just watching how she's handled everything and has overcome it to still be such a positive person."
LASTING SENIOR MEMORIES
Like countless other high school seniors whose heart and determination are greater than their ability, Tre'Var knows each playoff game could be the last time he gets to suit up to play the game he's loved all his life.
Tonight's game is a rematch of a 10-point loss to West earlier this season and this is the deepest the Blue Raiders have advanced in the playoffs since the last of their three straight state titles in 1995. Second-year head coach Ron Crawford, who already owns one 5A state title when he coached at Brentwood High, recognized Tre'Var's work ethic early on and just before this season started, awarded the 5-10, 250-pounder a starting spot for the first time in his athletic career.
"The first thing I noticed about Tre'Var was that he always stayed after and did extra work," Crawford said. "Whether that was in the weight room or just running by himself, you could tell he cared about getting better and I knew he'd help us one day."
Along the way, Tre'Var has earned the trust and respect of the staff and the other players.
"After 28 years," said Crawford, "what keeps an old man coaching high school football are kids like Tre'Var."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...