Friday the 13th a day of triumph for Bryce Miller, 7, who leads football team onto field

Matt Hollinshead,
Seven-year-old Bryce Miller leads the Aztec football team onto the field during pregame introductions Friday at Fred Cook Memorial Stadium. Friday the 13th was previously a dark day in Miller's young life, but he turned it into a triumphant day.

AZTEC — Bryce Miller ran alongside the Aztec Tiger football players onto the field prior to tonight’s football game at Fred Cook Memorial Stadium, triumphantly rewriting what was previously a dark day in his young life: Friday the 13th.

"They were running out with me, so I was glad that it happened," Bryce said.

For the 7-year-old Aztec boy, that dreadful day came on Friday, January, 13, 2012, when he was just two weeks old.

Bryce was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer that attacks the adrenal glands. The cancer spread to his lymph nodes and one of his kidneys. 

"I just feared the worst because it's very, very severe. Not many kids survive it," said Stephanie Rivera, Bryce's mother.

He had to undergo an eight-hour surgery to treat the disease, where he died twice and revived twice on the surgical table.

The procedure was successful, and Bryce has been in remission ever since.

From that point on, the family decided to view each calendar day dated Friday the 13th in a different light. Every time that day goes by, the family views it as another victory for Bryce.

"There's been many Friday the 13th (days) since 2012, and we never look it as a negative," Rivera said.

With Friday, September 13th approaching, the family reached out to Aztec athletic director Bryan Sanders and Tigers football coach Matthew Steinfeldt and told them of Bryce's story, wanting to do something special for the occasion.

Bryce, who has multiple siblings that play football for Aztec youth teams, grew antsy in the days leading up to the big night, excited to finally see it through.

And Bryce, whose older half-brother Ben Miller also played football during high school, had some extra incentive storming out onto the field, as September is also childhood cancer awareness month.

Leading the Aztec football team out of the pregame tunnel was a proud, "super fun" moment for Bryce and his family. 

Bryce had been through so much, and this night was everything he wanted it to be: a night of pure happiness, triumph.

"It was very, very emotional. He's such a kind-hearted kid. Talking to him about it and preparing him for it, he just had tears in his eyes. Just (a) very special, emotional moment," Rivera said. "There's milestones that he hits, and this is one of the greatest."

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 and on Twitter at @MattH_717.