As a teenager, it is not unusual that a parent's words guide our movements.
But for 16-year-old Justin Jenkins of Hallsville, his father's words are echoed in every strike, every curve ball, and every step he takes on the mound.
"My dad told me before he died just 'throw strikes and keep it low' and I was like well I've got to do this for him," Justin said.
Those six words "throw strikes and keep it low," have powered his every pitch. Not just because they are his father's words, but because they are some of his father's last words.
"They gave him three to six months to live and he went way past that and they never expected him to do that good."
Justin's father died of colon cancer last February. The very next night, Justin stepped out on the mound in his dad's honor.
"At first I didn't start out well, then I prayed a little and it all just started coming back to me and I started throwing strikes."
"I was so proud of him," said Hallsville baseball coach Scott Mitchell. "I think we are all proud of him but I know his dad was definitely proud of him and looking down on him, and if there was an angel in the outfield that night, I know his dad was there."
But this Bobcat standout is not only dedicating his season to the father he lost, but also in memory of the mother he also lost.
"My real mom passed away when I was three from a brain tumor," he explained.
Having lost both his parents to cancer, Justin has taken the hurt and used it as the force behind his throw. As a sophomore, he's a varsity starter; been featured in several baseball magazines; the first player ever to win the Unsung Hero of the Week Award. Plus, just this season he's had 10 complete games with six shutouts. The whole time, thinking of his dad.
"I'm just trying to win for him, because I know he'd be proud of me, no matter what. Anywhere we are, he's going to be with us, to keep us fighting back."
Justin and his Bobcat teammates meet Montgomery in the playoffs next. That game is Saturday, May 6, at 7:30 p.m. in Lufkin.
Maya Golden reporting, firstname.lastname@example.org