SHELBY TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Friday nights at the Eisenhower High School football games, as the team gets ready for kick off, one of the key players in the home team's success is pumping them up: the motivator.
Jeff Florkey started with the team back in 2000 as the water boy, but he has earned a much bigger role since that first year. Coaches noticed the motivational speeches he would give to the players, and began letting him speak in front of the whole team. He became the student manager in his senior year of high school in 2004. Since then, he's been known as the motivator, giving the team pep talk before they take to the field.
"I'm very happy to be 'The Motivator,'" Florkey said.
Florkey is proud of his title, especially because he earned it.
"It’s meant a lot to him. He loves football, he loves Eisenhower football" said Laura Hennicken, Florkey's sister. "He looks forward to the games and every year he talks about it all year round and it just brings joy to his life."
Florkey's story and motivational speaking stuck with another Eisenhower High School alum.
"I think when people see and look at Jeff he's an inspiration," said Katie Simopolous, owner of 97 films.
Simopolous is a filmmaker now who made her first documentary on Florkey and his relationship with the Eisenhower High School football team.
As she began doing interviews with people about their experiences with Florkey, she quickly discovered just how much of an effect he had on the team, and how big of an icon he had become.
"The story surprised me," Simopolous said. "Just hearing everybody talk about how Jeff changed their lives and that every single person that I interviewed, the word they used was impact."
This word stuck with Simopolous, who named her documentary "IMPACT - The Jeff Florkey Story."
"He is the spirit, the pep talk. he is the icon of Eisenhower football," Derrick Chriss, Eagles RB/DB/specialist 2003-2005, said in the film.
"He made heroes of a lot of us, and then in turn the coaches and the players, he became a hero in his own right," Bob Lantzy, Eagles head coach 1970-2011, said in the film.
Simopolous spoke with different players and coaches, including players that went onto play for the NFL, and all of them paid tribute to Florkey's role and legacy of inspiring the team.
"Jeff was a big part of that program. Every great moment that I had at Eisenhower, even the bad moments, we lost the state championship, losing critical games. I remember Jeff, he was just as much a part of the team as a player," said Lance Long, Eagles wide receiver 2000-2003, said in the film.
Florkey has a cognitive impairment, but he's never wanted that to hold him back from what he loves doing.
"It's not easy being special needs and trying to make a name for myself," Florkey said." That's why I'm happy Eisenhower made me who I am today."
"It makes me feel really proud and really good," Hennicken said. "That even children with disabilities and young adults with disabilities can still make an impact on society. He went through school with his disability and he was able to make the best of it and do the best that he could to help out the team."
Florkey plans to keep attending Eisenhower football games when their season starts back up in the fall.