Richt and Hunter

Valdosta Bulldog fan Conrad Hunter meets Georgia Bulldog Football coach Mark Richt for the first time at Valdosta Regional Airport Tuesday.

VALDOSTA — As the door to the white stretch limousine opened wider and wider at the Valdosta Airport Tuesday, so did the mouth of 7-year old Conrad Hunter revealing more and more of a glimmering white smile.

Looking out of the limo, Hunter got a glimpse of the man who has helped ease the pain of 28 surgeries.

A moment later Conrad’s mom, Sandra Hunter was picking the youngster up from the ground when he showed his excitement by simulating fainting.

After making his mother and those around smile, Conrad embraced University of Georgia football coach Mark Richt with an ear to ear grin.

“It was fun,” Conrad said. “He was glad to see me.”

Conrad was born with a debilitating and painful birth defect called Eosinophilic esophagitis. The disease is the inflammation of the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach, most likely in Conrad’s case caused by allergies.

About nine months ago it was brought to the attention of the Valdosta Bulldog Club President Fleming Hunt that Conrad was a Bulldogs fan, so it was arranged for a letter and signed photo to be sent to the young boy in the hospital.

Since then it has been his dream to make it to a game and meet the coach of his favorite team.

A month ago the Hunters were invited to attend Tuesday’s Dawg Day in Valdosta banquet with a special surprise for Conrad. That surprise was escorting Richt from the airport to the James H. Rainwater Conference Center.

“Oh my gosh was he excited,” Sandra said. “Somebody asked him what are you going to do when you meet the coach. He said, ‘I’m going to faint.’ I figured he was just lying. I didn’t figure he was going to collapse.”

After Sandra wiped the tears off her face and Richt and his young fan had greeted each other, the two engaged in conversation during the drive.

Noticing that Conrad was wearing a No. 3 Bulldogs jersey with his name on the back, Richt reached out again trying to dial the man behind the number at UGA, former quarterback D.J. Shockley, but could not get an answer.

“Richt turned around and called D.J. Shockley in the car to get him on the phone,” Hunt said. “Conrad said, ‘This is too much tonight.”

As the ride went along, Richt learned more about the young fan.

“He’s a little warrior, that’s for sure,” Richt said. “We were just shooting the breeze about normal things.

“It was fun.”

Sandra said she firmly believes the attention and prayers of the Bulldog Club, Richt and many others has led to the well being of her son.

“When you have chronically ill children, you have to have something to motivate him, and I think this time having all this happen to Conrad and having this many people praying for him and caring about him helped him through it,” Sandra said. “We didn’t have as many complications as we did in the past.

“He was very positive, and everybody was real surprised at the change in his attitude. He’s always had a good attitude, he’s just a very positive kid.”

While in a hospital in Baltimore, Conrad kept telling his nurses and care givers that he would be at a Georgia game next fall.

Richt said when that happens, he will get Conrad on the sidelines before kickoff.

“If he could come, we’ll figure a way to get him on the sideline before the game and meet some of the guys,” Richt said. “Sometimes coming to the practice is a little more intimate than game day when you’re buzzing around and your mind is on other things.

“We’ll work something out for him.”

Though Conrad’s meeting was the highlight of the evening the Bulldog Club event went off well.

Over 425 people gathered in the Conference Center talking and receiving autographs from Richt and men’s basketball coach Dennis Felton while eating barbecue.

“I think it was fantastic,” Hunt said. “It looked like a very good crowd. The coaches are very happy to come down here.”

WSB Radio personality Neil Williamson, Felton and Richt spoke to the crowd and answered various questions. Athletic Director Damon Evans and gymnastics coach Suzanne Yoculan were scheduled to attend, but Yoculan could not make it and Evans was with the Bulldogs as they challenged for a national championship in men’s tennis.

“It was awesome,” Richt said. “It was beautifully decorated, very well organized and a lot of enthusiasm. All those things you’d love to have for a Bulldog Club.

“It makes it fun coming down here.”

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