CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WDBJ7) While the Hokies are as tough as can be on the field, off the field they're a bunch of gentle giants.
The Hokies have worked hard for what they've accomplished. But there are those that don't even get the opportunity to play the game of football because of their health. And while one William Byrd highschooler isn't healthy enough to play the game he loves, he's as much a part of the Maroon and Orange, as the Hokies are themselves.
Elijah Oltmanns grew up playing football with plans to one day play on the William Byrd High School team. But those plans changed when Elijah was still in middle school.
"I was playing football during the 8th grade and I developed a lump on the left side of my neck," Elijah said.
"They thought at first it was some sort of muscular thing, and it wasn't. Then they thought he had gotten an infection out of the dirt. Some kind of bacteria. Went through about three rounds of antibiotics, and it didn't go away," Elijah's mother Heather Oltmanns said.
Elijah was diagnosed with a form of cancer called T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma at the age of 13.
"It was kind of shocking to find out about that and realize I had to go through it," Elijah said.
"There was a time last year, we spent about a month in the hospital. It cost him the ability to talk. He couldn't move his arms and legs. It's caused his body to act like a diabetic person. He's on two kinds of insulin. Like we were rushing to get through presents because we had to take him back to the hospital," Heather said.
"He spent Christmas in the hospital that year. Every picture that we have of him taking chemo treatments or no hair, he's always got a smile. And that's the way he's been through this whole thing," Elijah's father Todd Oltmanns said.
And even though Elijah found the strength to smile through much of the pain, there was a lot that he had to give up along the way.
"I couldn't really play sports during this time because of my port. It's linked directly to my heart. And all the chemo made me tired," Elijah said.
But through an organization called Team Impact, Elijah was connected with his favorite football team, the Virginia Tech Hokies, and throughout this season, he's become just another one of the guys.
"I've gotten to go to the practices, pregame stuff on the sidelines. They are really nice and supportive," Elijah said.
It's the support that the Oltmanns' say has greatly impacted Elijah's recovery for the better.
"For him to love football so much and to always have played, and to see this illness rob him of this and take it, to be able to get that back in any form. They are doing that for him. They are running and playing for him. And that's been really cool," Heather said.
It's been a very cool experience for the Oltmanns' family all season and Team Impact even made it possible for Elijah and his parents to make the trip down here to the Belk Bowl. Because of course, a member of the team should get to complete the season with the Hokies.