Between cliques, peer pressure, and bullying, high school is often a difficult time for teenagers. It’s a lot to handle. But because young people can face so much adversity, one bright spot can make all the difference.

For many kids in Keller, Texas, Max Akin was that bright spot. While it would’ve been easy for him to settle into the role of a snotty popular kid, he went out of his way to form an incredible friendship that brought the entire community together as one.

Even at a high school as exceptional as Fossil Ridge, Max Akin stands out. For one thing, he’s always willing to help out his classmates, giving them the support they need to shine. But his talents aren’t limited to selflessness either.

He led the football team as the starting quarterback, propelling the Panthers throughout a successful 2016 campaign. He had all the tools he needed: he could throw way downfield, scramble away from defenders, and keep his cool during tense moments.

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While other guys in his position would be stuck up and conceited, Max understood that playing good football wasn’t the most important thing in life. Instead, he valued contributing to his community and making new friends — especially with those who were different from him.

One of Max’s closest pals at Fossil Ridge was K.L. Norwood, though they were very different people. Although these guys were in the same class, K.L. dealt with challenges each day that Max couldn’t imagine.

Born prematurely, K.L. was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at just a few weeks old. Doctors doubted he would survive the year. But K.L. persevered. Despite his condition, he became known as one of the friendliest students in Fossil Ridge.

Despite his passion for sports, K.L.’s health prevented him from playing at a varsity level. After a bit of asking around, however, he figured out that he could still be part of a team in a very big way.

He became the manager of the football team! He took charge of keeping practices running smoothly and managing the sideline during every game. K.L. quickly established himself as a fixture of the Panthers squad.

Though some starting quarterbacks wouldn’t give the time of day to a manager, K.L. and Max bonded over the years. By the time they were seniors, just about everyone knew these two were best friends.

On and off the field, Max and K.L. were bringing out the best in each other. Both were big about encouraging positivity in their school — a valiant feat for often-petty teenagers. However, Max worried that one upcoming event might tear them apart.

Homecoming weekend was coming up that fall. For most students, the big game, dance, and other festivities were a highlight of the year. Max, on the other hand, saw it as a source of major anxiety.

During the homecoming game, Fossil Ridge would announce that year’s Homecoming King and Queen. Because these honors were voted on by the student body, Max suspected that he was the prime candidate for the honor — just because he played football.

Max certainly wasn’t afraid of being at the center of attention, but he felt the Homecoming crown should go to someone who really deserved it. Max stayed up late making a video he debuted a week before homecoming.

Catching everyone by surprise, Max urged his classmates to vote for K.L.! His unconventional approach had a strong start, as the school announced that K.L. made the finals. But Max was a finalist as well!

Early in the homecoming game, the Panthers pulled out to a comfortable lead. The only thing that was on Max’s mind was halftime when the crown would go to the King and Queen. When the clock rolled down, he joined the other “court” members on the field.

With all the finalists lined up, Fossil Ridge announced the winners. Max’s heart dropped when the loudspeaker announced he won Homecoming King. He begrudgingly accepted the crown and took some photos, and then a bright idea popped into his head.

Max walked over to K.L., knelt down like a medieval servant, and bestowed the crown to his friend. A hush fell over the stadium before the packed Fossil Ridge went wild. But why did Max believe so strongly that K.L. should be King?

Well, he simply thought his friend didn’t get enough credit for bringing people together. “I think [the crown] should’ve gone to the person who positively uplifts the school and everybody around him,” Max said, “and that person is K.L., for sure.”

Following Max’s kind gesture, the rest of the weekend was a blast. Fossil Ridge rocked their homecoming dance, and K.L., in particular, was over the moon to be at the center of it all. They weren’t the only ones who savored the moment either.

Ellen DeGeneres caught wind of the incredible friendship, and she invited Max and K.L. to appear on her show. Not only did these pals get a big moment in the spotlight, but Ellen also gave each of them $10,000 for college!

The Fossil Ridge seniors all went their separate ways later that year, but Max and K.L. gave them a moment to cherish forever. They learned that popularity can come and go, but real friendship is capable of bringing everyone together.