BERKELEY, Calif. - Even in a sea of Berkeley blue and California gold, you would be hard-pressed to find a fan more focused on the Cal-Stanford game, than 11-year-old Bryson Thompson.
Sitting with his family in the stands a few weeks ago, Bryson rode the roller coaster of emotion with every offensive play, every defensive stand, and questionable calls from the officials.
Football is in his blood.
His maternal grandfather was a longtime lineman with the New Orleans Saints.
Bryson’s father, Aristotle Thompson, is the running backs coach for Cal.
"I feel great every single time Cal scores," Bryson told KTVU in an interview.
Before every game, home or away, whether the family is in attendance or not, Aristotle Thompson gestures to the stands—a reminder, family comes first.
"We have that as a symbol that ‘hey, we’re with each other," Thompson said.
Football is part of what binds the family.
"Everything. Football’s just our family, there’s no other sport that’ll come before football with us," said Brock Thompson, Bryson’s older brother.
Football is also a source of healing for Bryson.
Doctors diagnosed him with epilepsy when he was four years old.
It came after he experienced a serious seizure, scaring his entire family.
"He was facedown on the ground, and he had a 15-minute-long Grand mal seizure and two hours of unresponsive time after it," said Sarah Thompson, Bryson’s mother.
A grand mal seizure involves a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions.
Some days, Bryson can experience hundreds of seizures.
His parents have met with doctors all over the country seeking treatment. Their major focus now is helping Bryson live with seizures while also enjoying just being a kid.
"The level of strength that he shows, on a daily basis, you know it amazes me but also empowers me to want to do more for him, and fight this battle for him," Aristotle Thompson said.
The resilient young man wears a helmet to protect his head.
After insurance would not pay for the helmet, Bryson and his older brother, when they were 6 and 8 respectively, had an idea.
Cal football. Bryson Thompson Helmets 4 Helmets.
"Just giving back to people who were like Bryson," said Brock Thompson. "We didn’t want them to have to go through what we did to get him a helmet, we just want to get it to them as fast as we can and help them out."
The brothers created "Helmets 4 Helmets," a foundation that raises money by auctioning off donated memorabilia, then buys and sends helmets to other kids with epilepsy. It started with a Drew Brees helmet and over the next five years, a massive outpouring of generosity from pro athletes.
"We also got Peyton Manning a couple months ago, and then we also got a Tom Brady, New England Patriots game-worn helmet," Bryson said.
The boys have raised enough money to send helmets to nearly 60 kids.
"I think it’s the proudest moment as a parent that you can have to see your children helping other," said Sarah.
The Thompson's have had some amazing experiences along the way.
A few weeks ago, they stood in the Saints' tunnel as the team came out to face the 49ers.
Quarterback Jameis Winston came over to snap a photo.
"Here he is, getting ready to go out and play a football game in the next few minutes, and he sees this kid: how can I go out and put a smile on his face," said Aristotle Thompson.
A photo with Winston may be cool, but no one tops Cal running back Jaydn Ott for Bryson.
Ott just wrapped up an impressive freshman year, and he’s developed a special friendship with Bryson.
"He sent me a message after our last game, and he was fighting some tears, he just wanted to make sure I’m alright," said Ott. "I really appreciate all the support he gives."
If you want to donate to Helmets4helmets, go to Helmets4Helmets.com