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Twin with autism forms special bond with brother, on and off the football field

Shariff Williams was never supposed to be able to walk or speak, yet every weekend this fall he could be found on a football field dashing for a touchdown, as his twin brother and teammates cheered him on.

Shariff, 9, has autism and Tourette's syndrome, but it hasn't stopped him from playing the game he loves as a member of the Panthers in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

Every week, he finds the end zone as his brother, friends and opposing players show their support.

"Shariff's been a miracle, for a child who was never supposed to walk, talk, and didn't know how long he was going to live,'' the boys' mother, Tonya Williams, said on TODAY Friday.

Shariff, whose story is the latest installment of TODAY's "Together We Make Football" series with the NFL, was inspired to play by seeing his twin brother, Malachi, out on the gridiron in the Eastern Panhandle Youth Football League.

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"There is a bond that I don't think you can understand unless you're a twin,'' the boys' father, Tony Williams, said on TODAY.

"He thought I felt sad when I was out on the field,'' Malachi said.

During every game this season, the first play after halftime is designed for Shariff to run the ball. The opposing coach would let his players know not to tackle No. 6.

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"Our objective as a coaching staff was to not make him feel like he was an autistic kid playing football,'' Panthers coach Scott Hager told TODAY. "We just wanted to make him feel like a Panther. Every team, all throughout the year, everyone said, 'Okay, we're giving this special moment to this family.' It extends out to the entire league."

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Fans on both sides could be heard yelling Shariff's name as he headed for the end zone.

"This is special,'' Tony said. "He makes everybody happy. Wasn't supposed to be here, but he's here. They said he wouldn't be able to do that. They said he wouldn't be able to do it."

The Williams family received another special memory from TODAY when they got a visit from Washington Redskins star linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.

He let them know they are finalists to win a trip to Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, on Feb. 7.

"It's beyond once in a lifetime, to actually see the boys in awe!" Tony said. "As a parent, this is something that they'll never forget."

Follow TODAY.com writer Scott Stump on Twitter.

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