From a young age, 9-year-old Fernando Zapata Gomez and his parents, Fernando Sr. and Patricia, would go to a small park in Canton, Ga., to watch the local pick-up football games.
Zapata Gomez has always been on the smaller size for his age, preventing him from joining in on the fun.
Patricia and Fernando Sr. couldn't wait for the day their son would finally be old enough to join the local youth football league, and just when they thought they were in clear, the family was presented with life-altering news.
At 6 years old, Fernando Jr. was diagnosed with leukemia and things drastically changed for the Zapata Gomez family.
Fernando Jr. was pulled out of school and began his treatment process right away.
For four years, almost everything in Fernando's life was uncertain, but along the way, one thing became clear: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and his teammates provided the sense of optimism Fernando Jr. needed to keep battling.
"Having leukemia took everything away from him," Fernando Sr. and Patricia said through a translator. "He was so sick that he had to be home schooled and couldn't play sports, so he would watch football on TV, [and that's] how he became a fan of the Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan."
One year ago, Fernando Jr.'s doctor recommended him to the Make-A-Wish program, where he would be given the opportunity submit a wish.
That wish was to meet Ryan.
The Zapata Gomez family was invited out to Falcons headquarters on Monday where Fernando Jr. became part of the team for the day. He attended the walkthrough, received a tour of the locker room and signed a one-day contract.
The trip became even more surreal for Fernando Jr. when he was given individual time with Ryan.
This short time was just as meaningful, if not more, to the Pro Bowl quarterback.
"It's crazy," Ryan said of what it means to him to bring this wish to life. "Obviously, it's a special day for the kids, but it's a special day for me, too. To have them come out and see the smile on their face, see their families and get to spend some time with them, it's one of those things that never gets old.
"I've been playing for nine years and whenever you have something like that happen, it's a great day for everyone. I've been lucky to do it a number of times, and I always leave with a smile on my face."