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It's been about 12 years since Emanuel Jones met his good friend Chance Lindsey.
Now senior teammates on the Mundelein football team, the two were starting first grade together.
Since then, Jones can count on one hand — make that one finger — the number of times Lindsey has had anything but a big smile on his face.
"I think I've seen him sad or upset just once, and he wasn't even that sad," Jones, a running back, said of Lindsey. "Chance is one of the nicest, most warm-hearted people I know. And he's always really positive. He's always got a smile on his face, no matter what."
In fact, Jones swears that Lindsey, a two-way starter for the Mustangs (wide receiver/cornerback) who also stays on the field for special teams, even comes to predawn football practices with a smile on his face.
And there have been times that Lindsey didn't have a ride. So the only way he could get to those early practices was by jogging from home, which is about a mile away.
"Chance doesn't really have a cell phone that works, so he couldn't call for a ride either," Jones said. "When he'd have to run to school, he'd come into the weight room all sweaty. But he'd be smiling. Always smiling."
Football has kept a smile on Lindsey's face even when it would have been easy for him to frown. Life certainly hasn't offered him a very smooth ride so far.
Just last year, Lindsey's family lost its home and was forced to live in multiple hotels until more money came in and his mom, Deborah, could catch up on bills.
"We were basically homeless," Lindsey said.
In the meantime, Lindsey has managed to turn a stiff upper lip into countless smiles through the most difficult challenge of his life. He's been missing his father. For years.
Lindsey would love to share his football career with his dad but he hasn't seen him since he was 5 years old. Lindsey doesn't even have a picture of his Dad.
"When I see kids with their fathers, I think about my Dad sometimes and how I would have turned out if he had been around," Lindsey said. "I wonder about what my life would have been like. It's tough (to think about). But all I can do is be positive about what I'm doing now."
Cue the smile.
It comes to Lindsey so effortlessly.
"My Mom smiles a lot. I'm pretty sure I get it from her," said Lindsey with (what else?) a smile. "She's always staying positive, even when it's tough. That's what I like to do. I just don't like to be sad or mad."
Lindsey's positive attitude has kept him happy and on track but so has non-stop love and encouragement from Deborah, a single mom who has resiliently raised six kids on her own while driving a school bus. Supportive teammates who say Lindsey is one of the most well-liked kids in school, and coaches who have happily tried to fill the role of father figure have also been a blessing.
"I've gotten a lot of help," Lindsey said. "My mom is always encouraging me. And the team has become like a family to me. My teammates are my brothers."
Meanwhile, Mundelein head coach George Kaider has taken Lindsey under his wing, as if Lindsey was one of his own. He said he was drawn to Lindsey because of his extraordinary attitude and relentless work ethic.
"Chance has come from a very difficult upbringing," Kaider said. "But he's so positive and upbeat and he's so committed to our team and to working hard and doing the right thing. He's always going 100 percent. And he's such a nice kid.
"You can't help but like him and respect him. You just root for Chance. It's easy to want to give of yourself to someone like him."
Kaider has become a confidant to Lindsey, and has helped him with his schoolwork and college search. He also helped Deborah work with a realtor when she needed to find new housing for the family.
"Coach Kaider has definitely been a father figure to me," said Lindsey, who also counts on his four older brothers for guidance. "He's taught me a lot about how to be a man. We're really close. He's helped me so much."
Since Kaider took over the football program last year, Lindsey, who used to struggle in school, has raised his grades to a B average. Meanwhile, he's improved his speed and his football skills. Now, Kaider believes Lindsey is a legitimate college prospect.
"I really think Chance could play Division II or Division III," Kaider said. "He's got great hands, he runs good routes and he's always working so hard, and that rubs off on other kids.
"We've got to make sure Chance gets to play football in college because that's his ticket."
And not just to a longer career on the football field.
Lindsey sees the same big picture Kaider does. He's hoping a college football opportunity will lead to a college diploma that could then lead to a life that is free from some of the struggles of his childhood.
"Chandler, one of my brothers, went to college at Southern Illinois and he became an engineer and now he works in the city," Lindsey said. "I think he wanted to make sure he had a career and a better life so that he could help my Mom. That's exactly what I want to do.
"It's a big goal of mine. I've learned that I'm pretty strong. I think I can do it."
As long as Lindsey keeps smiling, he should be golden.
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw