EDMOND — Corie Harding leaned over his son's shoulder, watched him scrawl his name on a piece of paper and beamed.
He couldn't have smiled any bigger.
On Signing Day as hundreds of kids around the state inked national letters of intent to play college sports, lots of parents looked like Corie Harding did Wednesday afternoon at Edmond Santa Fe High School. They, too, had wide eyes and huge grins.
None, though, had a story quite like Corie and son Khari.
“I'm very proud of him for all that he's been through and all the things that I've been through,” Corie said after Khari signed to play football at Auburn.
What Khari went through has been documented but is still shocking in its details. Six years ago, he was living with his mom and two sisters in a one-bed hotel room in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It was their home for six months after his mom got divorced. Even though they had a roof over their heads, they didn't have much else. Little food. Few clothes. No transportation.
At the behest of a concerned grandmother, Corie went to Texas to bring his son back to Oklahoma. The state in which he found Khari shocked him.
All Khari brought with him were the clothes he had on — a tank top, a pair of shorts and size-9 shoes.
When they went to buy him some more clothes, they discovered that Khari needed size-12 shoes.
“It was rough,” Corie said of the transition. “But I've seen him grown. Every year, I've seen a positive.”
Much of it came from tough love. Corie was strict with Khari. Do your homework. Wash the dishes. Clean your room.
But somewhere amidst those demands, the two became best friends.
Father and son watched in awe as recruiters beat a path to their door. Khari, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound safety, had about a dozen scholarship offers and his choice of big-time schools.
Life was grand.
But then in the fall, Corie started feeling bad. He went to the doctor, looking for answers.
“I didn't know what to do, didn't know what to expect, didn't know what was going to happen,” Khari said. “I was depressed.”
Corie spent three weeks in the hospital as doctors removed a two-inch tumor.
When he finally got to come home, he was getting chemotherapy and taking lots of medicine, some of which made him sick. Khari would hear him get up in the middle of the night, and he didn't know what to do.
Corie told him not to worry.
“I'm a fighter,” he told his son. “You fought with what you went through. We've got the same genes. We're fighters.”
Corie, who says the support of family and friends has been unbelievable, is down to one treatment a week now. He calls it “light chemo,” though no amount of chemo seems like it would be light.
“I'm feeling good,” said Corie, who hopes to return to work next week but will continue his weekly chemo through July. “I still have a little pain here and there, but I'm fighting through it.”
Khari said, “He's leaving the house all the time now.”
These are good days.
But even if Corie were still on the meds that made him sick, it's impossible to believe he would've missed Wednesday afternoon's ceremony. That smile on his face as he watched Khari sign was evidence of that.
“It's such a positive day,” he said. “To have this type of opportunity to go down to college and not pay for anything ... I'm proud of him.
“I love him so, so much.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.