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Keannu QBs LHS Spartans to grid victory

Keannu Linnell's wish of playing football again with his teammates came true on Friday.

He's the 17-year-old Lathrop High student who was diagnosed with a germ cell tumor in 2016 following the completion of his junior varsity season with the Spartans.

He quarterbacked that team and was good enough to play varsity.

Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and EmergeXR, an international virtual reality company, coupled with the Manteca Unified School District and Lathrop High, Linnell's wish was revealed before a crowd at Bennie Gatto Field at Paul Wiggins Stadium.

"We do over 400 wishes a year but this was a one of a kind," said Make-A-Wish President and CEO Jennifer Stolo, who noted that virtual reality technology made the impossible become possible for Keannu Linnell.

He entered the stadium, blindfolded and in a wheelchair, alongside his sister, Callia, and his LHS Spartan teammates and coach Joe Pirillo, who noted that Linnell will be the last to wear the No. 5 jersey for the black and gold.

They made their way from the locker room to the stadium consisting for family -- included were his parents, Yesenia and Alec Linnell, family members, friends, classmates, district officials, dignitaries and other supporters.

All were silent in order for Keannu -- or Nannu (his nickname was chanted by those in the stadium) -- to get the full virtual reality experience.

He entered into a chamber at midfield, wearing the virtual reality gear -- two large screen televisions were situated for those in attendance to view Linnell's experience, using the scenarios filmed a week earlier of Lathrop taking on Interstate 5 rival Weston Ranch High on Senior Night.

For one shining moment, he got a chance to see himself play quarterback, rallying his team from a 14-7 halftime deficit to within a point in the closing seconds of regulations, 28-27.

From shotgun position, Linnell saw himself sprinting for the end-zone pylon, diving in and scoring for the game-winning two-point conversion.

Virtual reality became reality as he was suddenly swarmed by his teammates at midfield as the viewing chamber unfolded with his VR gear removed.

"You are an inspiration to all of us," Pirillo said later.

Linnell, who in addition a City of Lathrop recognition plaque from Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal, continues to work towards recovery.

He has strong hopes of walking, running and throwing a football -- part of his bravery, drive and determination.