HOLLY RIDGE, ONSLOW COUNTY - Dixon High School's homecoming pep rally brought cheers, smiles, hugs and even tears.
"A whole bunch of relief shot into my body," said football player Matthew Sweeting. "Just to see that he was alright -- I really miss him."
Sweeting was surprised along with the rest of his team to see their coach -- and Sweeting's uncle, Ray Swaney -- Skype in while deployed in Afghanistan on reserve duty.
"Him being gone has really hit me hard," said teammate Robbi Wyble. "He taught me a lot of what I know. He's always been there to mentor me, not only as a football player, but as a person. He taught me how to be a better man."
Principal Vikki Childress didn't want Swaney to miss all the fun.
"We told him, don't worry about being over there, since you can't be at homecoming," Childress said. "We are going to bring homecoming to you."
It wasn't just the team that Swaney got to see. His wife Danielle is the cheerleading coach, who brought the kids along too. She's helping him root for the team as they face off Croatan High School Friday night.
"Play hard, and enjoy yourselves," she said. "Enjoy the game, and do your best. That's all we can ask."
But what the players want is a win.
"I want to win for my uncle, and I think he deserves it," Sweeting said. "He's out in the field for us."
Wyble, too, wants to make his coach proud.
"I want people to be able to tell him that we won our second homecoming in a row," Wyble said. "I want him to be proud of us."
As Swaney spends the rest of the school year overseas, the team has him close to their hearts.
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