Before he could run out of earshot, his dad had one more thing to say. Standing on crutches about 25 yards away, Jackie lifted his voice.
“Love you,” he said to his son.
These simple moments and so many others between the two would pass unremarkably, if not for how close they came to not happening.
As it is, things are relatively on schedule. Ryan, a junior slot receiver, is breaking through as a starter for Oxford. His dad, a former Oxford player and the Yellow Jackets’ stats keeper since 1994, is soaking in every moment.
Doctors say it likely will be December before Jackie recovers as fully as possible from taking an AK47 round through his right leg, shattering his femur and femoral artery. Maybe then, a year after the Heflin police officer was shot in the line of duty, he can return to work in some form, even if a desk job.
Until then, the Stovalls have Friday nights to enjoy, with Jackie recording every catch Ryan makes on an iPad from his wheelchair in the bleachers.
That’s where Jackie will be stationed tonight, when Ryan and his teammates play host to Georgia power Carrollton. It’s not the sideline, Jackie’s perch for years, but it’s safer.
And he’s there, watching his son’s breakthrough season.
“This is what I’ve waited on the sideline for 20 years,” he said. “Just to finally get here after what all happened, I guess I would say it’s more special than it ever could have been.”
And Ryan can look into the stands and see his dad watching.
“It’s a lot better than what it could have been,” he said.
Ryan plays baseball and football at Oxford. As a sophomore this past spring, he was center fielder and lead-off hitter for the Yellow Jackets’ junior-varsity baseball team.
He spent the 2012 football season on scout team, but he’s the starting slot receiver headed into tonight’s season-opener for his junior season. A week ago, he caught a pass in the jamboree at Oak Mountain, which Oxford won 14-10.
“He’s a great kid,” first-year Oxford coach Ryan Herring said. “He’s going to be here every day. He’s going to be on time. He’s going to work hard. He’s going to give you everything he’s got.
“He’s the perfect teammate.”
Ryan Stovall’s sports achievements mean everything to Jackie. His sports-themed home office is a shrine, with commemorative baseballs, pictures and framed newspaper items displayed prominently amid a backdrop of hundreds of Die-cast NASCAR replicas and University of Alabama football items.
Jackie had always been there for his son’s athletic exploits, coaching him in youth league and attending every game and nearly every practice before this calendar year.
Things temporarily changed Dec. 15, 2012, when his high-speed chase of 33-year-old Roberto Moya culminated in an exchange of gunfire at the busy Oxford interchange at U.S. 78 and Jimmy Hinton Drive, across from Cracker Barrel.
Moya escaped the scene, but police later cornered him in Coldwater and killed him in a shootout.
Jackie has undergone six surgeries related to the shooting, the last coming June 10. He has begun pushing light weight with his right leg and can get around on crutches, but he still uses the wheelchair around the house and at Ryan’s games.
Pain is a constant companion, which is why baseball season was different for him and his son.
“He went to every game, but that was about it because it wouldn’t stop hurting,” Ryan said. “He couldn’t make it to none of the practices and stuff like that.”
Jackie knew his son was feeling his absence when Oxford baseball coach Wes Brooks relayed a statement Ryan made in practice. It came out in a conversation about Ryan’s hitting.
“He said, ‘Well my dad usually helps me, but he ain’t been able to. He went out and got shot,’” Jackie said.
A counselor interpreted for Jackie.
“The lady told me that’s his anger toward the man that shot me,” Jackie said. “That’s his way of saying, ‘He took away my dad.’ … When she told me that, it kind of bothered me a little bit because it really was true. We did go do those things when he was in a slump or whatever, and (Moya) did take it away from him this year, but we’ll make up for it. He’s got two years left.”
For now, the sport is football, and Jackie still must be careful as grafted bone matter and his femur grow together. Pain remains an issue.
“I thought after this last surgery that it would be the easiest, and it’s been the worst and the most pain that I ever could have imagined,” Jackie said. “I’ve told all the guys that I talk to that I would never want anybody I know to go through what I’ve been through.
“I’ve not shown the pain and the heartache and the stuff that’s been hard on my wife and the kids, even to my dogs. We’ve all struggled with it.”
But Jackie was there Thursday, during the Yellow Jackets’ hour-long walkthrough for the Carrollton game. He’ll be in the stadium tonight as Oxford recognizes first responders, including him, and he’ll keep stats as his son makes his first varsity start.
“It means a lot,” Ryan said. “I know it hurts him sometimes, but he still comes.”
Jackie relishes the moment. He has anticipated it since the end of the 2012 season.
“I was, kind of, both glad that it got here and then also sad that there’s only two years left,” he said. “Now, after what I’ve been through, I’m just glad to see him growing into a man and to see what’s next for him.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.