What started as a normal weeknight football practice turned out very differently for one California high schooler.
Earlier this month, Samuel Harris — who goes by the nickname "Tote" — was standing in front of his teammates after practice sharing a short motivational speech about who inspires him.
"Somebody in my family I respect — there's a lot of people — but I would say my mom, because she's been gone for about a year with the military," Tote, 16, told his teammates in a video shared by the football team's booster club. "She's going to continue to work hard. She's a hard worker."
The high school sophomore from San Diego had no idea his mom, Tereca Harris, who had been deployed with the US Navy for nine months, was standing behind him as a surprise.
"My initial date to return wasn’t supposed to be until November, because that’s when my orders were up, but my grandmother is ill and she’s not going to get better," Tereca Harris told TODAY Parents. "So they allowed me to cut it short a couple months. But we did not tell Tote I was coming home."
In the video, Harris waits until her son has finished his speech and then grabs his hand. Overcome with emotion, Tote picks his mom up in an emotional hug.
"There were so many tears," Harris told TODAY. "I’ve missed so much with me being gone and him in high school. That’s the pivotal one that they remember, so the fact that we surprised him and he had no clue...it was even better."
Head football coach Paul Lawrence told TODAY he was happy to accommodate the surprise.
"Tote’s father called me the day before and said 'Hey, his mom is coming in. He does not know, I want to be able to surprise him'," Lawrence told TODAY Parents.
Lawrence shared that he ends each practice by having players talk to the team, and figured it would be a good opportunity to distract Tote.
"I think that day we were talking about respect and people we look up to, so I brought a couple underclassmen up and put them in a certain order so Tote could be last," Lawrence explained.
After the first and second player spoke, it was Tote’s turn.
"He gets to the family member and I’m thinking in my head, 'Please say your mom'," Lawrence said. "Not even the coaching staff knew what was about to happen."
Lawrence, who served in the U.S. Army, didn't hesitate to help facilitate the emotional family moment.
"We have a lot of coaches (on our team) that were in the military, so this was also a special moment for them, because they know what it's like to see their kids after a long time," he said.
The football coach shared that after the surprise, teammates were hugging Tote saying things like "We are so happy you get to see your mom again.”
But the celebrations aren't over. Harris returned just in time to celebrate her son's 16th birthday, which falls on the same night as the school's homecoming game, in which Tote will serve as an honorary captain. It's the first game Harris will be able to attend.
"It not only gives me goosebumps, but it makes my face hurt from smiling so much," Harris said of reuniting with her son. "I thought I was going to miss this moment. The fact that I’m here and I’m here for his sweet sixteen for homecoming. The feeling is indescribable."